by Isabella Pilot ’18
“Stronger,” the real-life drama based on Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, opens with a scene of Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) taking out the trash at Costco, where he works as a deli clerk. He returns to the deli, mistakenly burns himself on the rotisserie chicken oven, and then convinces his boss to let him off early so he can watch the Red Sox game from his lucky seat at the bar. From the very start, director David Gordon Green creates an unfiltered view into the life of the carefree, at times immature, young man who will soon be looked to as a national “hero.”
While one would anticipate a film about a terrorist attack to revolve around patriotism or the “American spirit,” “Stronger” instead focuses on the the human spirit–Bauman’s story is not one of getting back at the men who blew off his legs, but one of exorcising his personal demons. From getting his bandages changed in the hospital to taking his first step in prosthetics, Gyllenhaal’s convincing emotion reveals the internal struggle of the recovery process that the media so often omits.
What makes “Stronger” stand out from countless other based-on-a-true-story films is Bauman’s sudden status as a national hero. Within just a few weeks, he must learn not only how to get around without legs, but also how to handle a life in the spotlight. As fan mail starts to pile up and more and more strangers shout ‘Boston Strong!’ to Bauman on the street, viewers can sense his anxiety and confusion–Bauman can’t understand why anyone thinks he’s a hero if all he did was “stand there and get his legs blown off.”
Despite Gyllenhaal’s breathtaking performance, he is arguably outdone by supporting actress Tatiana Maslany who plays Bauman’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Erin. She was the person he was cheering on at the marathon, and she steps up to the plate to guide him through the healing process when Bauman’s drunk of a mother is too caught up in her son’s newfound fame to truly care for him. Erin’s presence transforms the movie from a tale of recovery to a love story, but not the cliche Hollywood tale of the hero getting the girl. Erin believes in Jeff enough to be hard on him, calling him out on his flaws and not being afraid to separate herself from the situation when he can’t see her worth.
In a time when terrorism seems to dominate the newstream on a regular basis, “Stronger” brings to light the more personal side of mass tragedies and the real people behind the headlines. The film beautifully conveys how heros are not formed by circumstance, but by how they overcome the everyday struggles we all face.