MY FLESH AND BLOOD
The film follows the real-life fortunes of Susan Tom, a Californian single mother who is currently taking care of nine of her children, all adopted and most suffering from disabilities. Over the course of a single year, dramatic events include a rare visit from Susan's parents and the increasingly worrying behaviour of Joe, a fifteen-year-old who suffers from both cystic fibrosis and attention deficit disorder.
Review by Jake Wilson:
Every family fights its own war against chaos. In this sense, the family of My Flesh And Blood is no different from any other, except the battleground is larger and the enemy more visible. Susan Tom's oldest son, Anthony, almost literally has one skin too few: with his shrivelled limbs and raw, flaking scalp, he's a pitiful sight at first, like a horrific cartoon of humanity at its most wretched. But pity - as opposed to empathy - is ultimately irrelevant. For Anthony, as for millions worldwide, pain and the proximity of death are facts to be taken for granted; moreover, he is loved and cared for when many are not.
Nor is the film simply a parade of miseries. A large, homely, practical woman with some of the qualities of a military general, Susan Tom is memorable above all for her vast appetite for life. A self-effacing irony barely masks her pride in the impossible challenges she routinely faces: "My record was three kids in the hospital, all having major surgery on the same day. That was a little hard." Even more than most families, hers is an overwhelming world in itself, filled with tenderness and hilarity as well as unfathomable depths of loneliness and rage. It's not surprising that the oldest and most physically "normal" daughter, Margaret, feels engulfed, till her feelings come pouring out at last in an incredible, dissociated monologue ("The reason why I help you all the time is because I'm angry").
In steering a course through this ocean of material, the filmmaker, Jonathan Karsh, is well-served by his experience as a TV reporter. There's no voice-over narration, but background information on the Toms is clearly and economically laid out, with clips from interviews and home movies supplementing direct observation. The structure Karsh has devised, a series of "chapters" focusing on individual family members, is also effective (though I could have done without the artsy interludes of the children swimming in slow-motion). But without putting Karsh's integrity in question, it's worth keeping in mind that this family portrait is necessarily incomplete and in one way or another, misleading - the truth about any family being far too complex to express in ninety minutes or so.
Most of us have learned to distrust saints. A woman who voluntarily adopts nine or ten kids, nearly all in need of special care, and single-handedly raises them on unemployment benefits...she'd have to be crazy, we might think, or at least a little unbalanced. Is Susan driven by vain ambition, a martyr complex, a frustrated longing for adult love? While the film leaves her actions open to interpretation, thankfully none of these possibilities are pursued beyond a certain point. Deeper than analysis goes a remark made in a related context by the Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor, that if evil is grotesque, so too is the human face of good; that "in us the good is something under construction".
Email this article
MY FLESH AND BLOOD (M)
CAST: Documentary with Anthony Tom, Faith Tom, Joe Tom, Margaret Tom, Susan Tom, Xenia Tom
PRODUCER: Jennifer Chaiken
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Karsh
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Amanda Micheli
EDITOR: Eli Olson
MUSIC: B. Quincy Griffin, Hector H. Perez
PRODUCTION DESIGN: N/a
RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Accent
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 21, 2004