Through the medium of film, storytellers can weave an intricate and meaningful tale that often leaves audiences feeling not only entertained, but also inspired and touched. When the characters of a film reflect the complex nature of our own lives, we often feel as though we relate to them on a personal level. Identifying strongly with a character can produce feelings of inclusion and offer insight into our own lives.
Films about disability can not only be a great window into the lives of many people in our diverse society, but they can also be a wonderful source of inspiration. These films often display a dynamic combination of courage, determination, and characters who strive to achieve their goals despite adversity.
Here are 10 fantastic films that feature disability.
1. The Secret Garden
After the death of her parents, 10-year-old Mary travels to Liverpool, England to reside under the care of her emotionally distant uncle.
While investigating a mysterious sobbing late at night, Mary encounters her cousin Colin.
Hidden away from the world since the death of his mother, Colin is too weak to walk and has never left his room.
The Secret Garden explores the healing effects of friendship when Mary brings Colin to a beautiful garden, which has also been locked away for years in decay.
As the garden begins to flourish under her care, the two children begin to heal as well.
2. The Theory of Everything
The Theory of Everything is a thoughtful study on the impact of disability in interpersonal relationships and families.
Taken from the true-life story of Stephen and Jane Hawking, the film depicts a shared life, illustrious career, and beautiful family that continues to grow in the face of Stephen's ALS diagnosis.
The Theory of Everything is an Academy Award nominated film adapted from Jane Hawking's memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.
3. Million Dollar Baby
Underdog success story Maggie Fitzgerald suffers a broken neck at the peak of her boxing career.
Bedridden and paralyzed, she begs her trainer to end her life.
Although primarily a film about hard work, determination, and success, Million Dollar Baby is a film that dares to ask hard-hitting questions about quality of life, disability, and euthanasia.
4. I Am Sam
Sam is an intellectually disabled father who loves two things: The Beatles and his daughter Lucy.
When authorities begin to question Sam’s capacity to raise a child, he finds himself embroiled in a vicious and confusing custody battle.
I Am Sam is an emotional tale of disability, family, courage, and love.
5. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
After the death of his father, twenty-four-year-old Gilbert Grape is left the figurehead of a family of five.
Struggling to make ends meet with his part-time job, he is also the primary caregiver of his intellectually disabled seventeen-year-old brother Arnie.
Gilbert struggles to find a way to balance his responsibilities while building a life for himself.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a glimpse into the sometimes tumultuous world of intellectual disabilities, young carers, and their journey to equilibrium and happiness.
6. The Horse Whisperer
Young horsewoman Grace MacLean is left bitter and disabled after a shocking trail riding accident.
After realizing that her daughter’s rehabilitation is intertwined with the recovery of her injured horse Pilgrim, Annie MacLean enlists the help of a renowned horse trainer, Tom Booker.
Under the watchful eye of Tom, Grace and Pilgrim begin to regain confidence in each other and the world around them.
The Horse Whisperer is a heart-wrenching display of an animal’s place in the recovery of its human, and the bond between a girl and her horse.
7. The Fundamentals of Caring
The Fundamentals of caring is a poignant and, at times, darkly comedic road trip movie.
Ben is the newly hired and wholly underqualified carer of disabled teen, Trevor, who lacks the basic life experience of most kids his age.
Together, they embark on an adventure that defies the limits of Trevor’s mobility and allows him a glimpse into the world outside his home.
The film explores the limits placed on people with disabilities by society and the healing power of finally having a friend.
Gattaca is a futuristic film rich in displays of ableism and discrimination.
Vincent Anton Freeman lives with a visual impairment and a heart condition in a society that believes in eugenics and genetic engineering.
Considered an “invalid,” the only way Vincent can achieve his dreams is to pose as an able-bodied person.
He must ignore his disabilities or become the victim of discrimination that would ruin his career.
The film is a powerful commentary on the impacts of genetic engineering and the division of "valid" and "invalid" people.
9. The Elephant Man
The Elephant Man is a shocking revelation of the treatment of a severely disfigured twenty-one-year-old man in 19th century London.
The film is a raw and honest biopic of the life of Joseph Merrick, known as John on screen.
Merrick’s saving grace is a forward-thinking doctor who discovers him at a freak show and introduces him to the concept of kindness.
Although the doctor believes him to be intellectually disabled when they meet, he soon discovers John is an intelligent and gentle man.
This is a shocking reminder of the cruelty that can be inflicted upon people with disabilities, countered by the story of a humble Merrick who only let their cruelty make him kind.
10. You’re Not You
At the height of her career, classical pianist Kate is diagnosed with ALS.
When her husband begins to struggle with her care, Kate hires brash college student Bec to assist her.
The pair form a fierce bond which brings adventure into Kate’s life and stability into Bec’s.
The relationship between the two women is a strong example of how disability, while isolating, can bring the right people closer together.
Films are not only a great source of entertainment, but their stories can often be inspirational as well. It is truly empowering to witness the courage and determination of those who overcome adversity to achieve their dreams.