Amazon Prime documentary film “Gleason” gives us an honest and intimate look into one former professional athlete’s daily life with his serious illness and the following complications. While never overlooking all those difficulties and frustrations experienced by him and several others standing by him, the documentary shows a number of powerful human moments to be appreciated, and it surely earns all the emotional responses from its audiences.
In the beginning, we get a brief but succinct summary on how things went quite well for Steve Gleason in the 2000s. Although he is not that tall or bigger, Gleason tried his best as a promising American football player to watch, and his diligent efforts subsequently paid off. Several years after joining the New Orleans Saints in 2000, he had a big moment to remember for not only himself but his team and many people in New Orleans, Louisiana, and then he happily retired in 2008 while looking forward to enjoying life more with his dear wife Michel.
However, Gleason noticed something wrong with his body in 2011, and then there came a devastating news for him and Michel. Although he was only 34, he turned out to be going through the early stage of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), and he and his wife were also told that he might die within less than 10 years.
Naturally upset and scared by this bad news, Gleason and his wife embarked on preparing for what they would go through during next ten years at least. When it later turned out that Michel got pregnant, Gleason decided to record his remaining life for his child as much as possible, and that subsequently led to his collaboration with Sean Pamphilon, Ty Minton-Small, and David Lee, who served as the cinematographers of the documentary (Although Pamphilon also worked as the director at first, he was later replaced by Clay Tweel because of his serious professional conflict with Gleeson in 2012).
While Gleason and his wife were waiting for their child’s birth during next several months, Gleason’s physical condition were deteriorated further, and that is really heartbreaking to watch. Sure, he got all the supports he could get from not only Michel but also several others including his father, but he came to lose his ability to move and speak bit by bit, and Michel tells us about how much she is disheartened by the rapid progress of her husband’s illness. Only one year after his diagnosis, he found his body much less mobile than before, and his speech also became a lot more slurred than before.
Nevertheless, Gleason and his wife still tried their best even though they knew well that they will lose their battle with ALS in the end. We see him testing a wheelchair to carry him, and then we also watch him making his voice recordings to be used for a voice-generating software when he could not speak well anymore. In addition, he and his family established a non-profit organization for the support of ALS patients, and there is a little emotional moment when he and his wife talk a bit with one ALS patient who receives some substantial help from Gleason’s non-profit organization.
Meanwhile, Gleason’s child was eventually born, and Gleason was certainly excited and delighted, but he also recognizes how things will be much difficult for Michel. Besides taking care of her husband, she also has to pay a lot of attention to their young son, and Gleason feels saddened because he cannot help her that much due to his worsening physical condition.
At least, they hire several professional caregivers to help and assist them, but their daily life is frequently riddled with many different obstacles, and the documentary does not hesitate at all to show almost everything to us. At one point, we see Gleason suffering from an unexpected side effect from trying a stem cell therapy, and his following enema process will surely make you wince more than once even though the camera does not look closely into that.
In addition, the documentary looks directly into how much Gleason and his wife often became angry and frustrated with his incurable illness, and I admire how they let the camera observe those difficult moments of theirs without any pretension. Their love and relationship were certainly tested a lot from time to time, and it is poignant to see when they later make a very important decision which will affect his life as well as hers. He feels guilty because that would demand a lot more from her than before, but she is ready to stand by him as much as possible, and their life is brightened a bit more as they come to have more time to see their son grow day by day. In addition, he also comes to have some honest moments with his father, and there is a touching moment when Gleason’s father frankly admits his shortcomings and then sincerely commends Gleason for being a better father than him.
Overall, “Gleason” is worthwhile to watch for the unadorned human qualities observed from Gleason and his wife and several others around him. Not long after the documentary came out, Michel gave birth to another child of his, and she and her husband keep going as before along with their two kids even at this point. Yes, their journey will eventually be over someday, but they have surely lived fully, haven’t they?