Reviewed by: Curtis McParland
Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer
What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer
Does God feel our pain? Answer
Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer
How can we know there’s a God? Answer
What if the cosmos is all that there is? Answer
If God made everything, who made God? Answer
What does God say? Answer
Is Jesus Christ God? Answer
Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer
Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer
How good is good enough? Answer
|Featuring:|| Steve Gleason … Himself
Mike Gleason … Himself
Scott Fujita … Himself
Mike McKenzie … Himself
Michel Varisco-Gleason … Herself
Paul Varisco Jr. … Himself
Vinnie Varisco … Himself
Ryan Gootee … Himself
|Director:||Clay Tweel (J. Clay Tweel)|
|Distributor:||Open Road Films
“Live with purpose. Love with purpose.”
Steve Gleason is still known as a legendary safety who once played football for the New Orleans Saints. Steve wasn’t just a great football player, though, but became a symbol of hope for the city of New Orleans, which was completely demolished by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. But why make a full-length documentary film on another sports icon? Well, Steve Gleason is no ordinary athlete and is actually more well-known for his own personal story. A story of pain and suffering… but ultimately of hope.
Steve shares this story in the documentary feature “Gleason.” After playing professional football for seven years, Steve was diagnosed with the terminal illness, ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), a neurological disease. Though devastated by the news, both Steve and his wife, Michel, did not give up hope. If there was one thing that Steve was good at, it was staying strong. The strength of both he and Michel were tested, though, as they later found out that they would be expecting their first child—their son, Rivers.
Steve was determined to not let his disease get in the way of becoming a good father and to live life to its fullest. His illness inspired him to create video journals for his unborn son. This way, he could share stories and his love with Rivers, since his illness will have greatly advanced by the time he was born. “Gleason” is Steve’s story. A story about a battle. But it is ultimately a story about finding peace and hope. A story about family—about love.
“Gleason” is an extremely well-made documentary that will certainly bring a tear (or two) to any eye. I admit that I shed a tears as Steve’s tragic story unfolded on screen. The film consists of large amounts of home video style footage with a handful of interviews. Though sometimes painful to watch, “Gleason” does an excellent job of sharing the horrific reality of ALS and how it not only affects the sick individual, but their loved ones, as well. There is still some fun, light-hearted moments, though, as Steve fulfills some dreams by traveling to various parts of the world.
But what really stood out to me the most was the fact that “Gleason” is not made to be a pity party for this man. Steve doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him. He wants you to see how ALS affects everyday lives, including one’s family. He wants viewers to experience the realities of this disease first-hand and wants us to develop a greater understanding of its effects. The message here is no matter how hard life may be, we can always find peace, hope, and love. “Gleason” shares a powerful message by telling its audience to take a stand and support those who suffer from ALS.
It is a shame, though, that “Gleason” had to be tagged with an R-rating for language. The film may portray the realities of life quite well, but the strong profanities could have at least been “bleeped” out. The language is moderate to heavy, as we hear about a dozen uses of both f-words (paired with “mother,” subtitled, and paired with “GD” once each) and s-words. We hear nearly another dozen uses total of milder profanities including d**n, a**, d**k, cr*p, s**ks, and h*ll. In one scene, after two people yell out “H*ll, yeah!,” one person yells out in response “Hallelujah!”. God’s name is abused about three times (once with d**n) and the phrase “Sweet Jesus” is said once. Two variants of the f-word “effing” and “fricking” are used once each. and one curse word is “bleeped” out.
Although not meant to be sexual in any way, some medical procedures involve Steve being hardly clothed. There is a scene in the bathroom where Steve has difficulty with his bowel movements (we see his side briefly a couple of times, but no graphic nudity), and he sits on the toilet in pain (again, nudity is obscured). Steve is seen in his boxers during yet another medical procedure, and all apparent nudity is obscured when baby Rivers is born (Michel is mostly covered by a sheet). Steve and Michel share a good handful of tender loving kisses, and Michel is also seen breastfeeding their newborn son. Once again, no nudity, as Michel is covered by a sheet. Michel dashes by the camera in her underwear as a prank during one of Steve’s video journals and is briefly seen wearing underwear bottoms as she talks to Steve in the bedroom. Handfuls of people are seen wearing various types of swimwear, and Michel exposes her bare pregnant belly. She tells Steve, “It is going to be difficult pushing this thing out of my little hole.”
The violence is relatively mild, as we see some football action on field and witness a handful of medical procedures. Though not graphic, one can feel the pain Steve goes through as he is plugged into machines, connected to tubes, rolled into surgery, and stuck with needles. Steve cries in great pain and agony a handful of times and goes through a very painful stem cell treatment. The birthing process is seen as Rivers is born. Michel is covered, but we do see the baby being born and covered in some blood. It is a very tender moment in the film, as Steve assists with the birth, and Michel says “It was so easy. I’m ready for number two!” There isn’t any drug or alcohol content in the film.
“Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” —Luke 6:31 (NLT)
Steve lives by this verse. Although he struggles with the fact that his health is going to worsen day by day, he still yearns to serve others and care for his family, regardless of his current medical condition. He is a selfless human being. “Why, God?”, he asks. “Please save me, I don’t want my wife to be by herself.” Before Steve passes on, he states that he wants to put his relationships in order. One in particular would be with his dad, Mike. During an interview, Mike admits to the fact that his marriage was dysfunctional and that he messed up as a father. However, this helps him let go of his past and stay focused on keeping a strong father-son relationship with his forgiving son, Steve.
Both Steve and Mike’s faith walk seems a bit muddy, as they never acknowledge Christ. However, they both have a firm belief in God, and the two have a few spiritual discussions. References are made to the Bible (more so the Old Testament), and Steve says that the Bible sometimes uses “fear tactics.” Mike doesn’t see God’s Word this way, though, and spends time with Steve grounded in the Word in one scene. When things hit a new low, Mike takes both Steve and Michel to a healing service. Steve begins to believe he can be healed, as a pastor shares some healing prayers. Michel, on the other hand, thinks that the entire healing service is ridiculous and goes as far as to call it “bulls***.” Steve has difficulty walking at this point and gets up and prepares to run after a prayer is said. Although Steve falls more than once, he still keeps up the faith and picks himself back up.
Both Steve and his father, Mike, appear to have a pretty strong faith, but Mike seems much more stable with his current relationship with God. Though Steve may feel shaky, both physically and spiritually, he is inspired to help those who also struggle with ALS. He later creates the Team Gleason Foundation for those who are in need of medical technology, which some insurance may not cover. Clearly, Steve applies Luke 6:31 to his life, as he extends a helping hand and shares his love with those who are even worse off than him.
Steve is a strong husband and father. But he still realizes that he is a fallible human being who makes mistakes. “I want to do everything I can to be a good father,” he says. Steve was inspired to name is newborn son Rivers because, to quote Steve, “You are the rivers for my fire.” Steve shares with Rivers in a video journal, “Your mom is wonderful.” Although he may be laid up on a hospital bed, Steve can still tell that his caring and loving wife is weak and tired. He tells her that he wants to help her carry her burdens in life. Talk about one caring and thoughtful husband.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” —John 16:33
Indeed, Christ has overcome the world. Revelation 21:4 shares that “He [Jesus] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
“My soul is saved,” Steve tells his dad. Although Steve thinks that his father is questioning his faith, all his dad wants is reassurance that his son has faith in God. Although the Gospel is never clearly conveyed in “Gleason,” I believe that both Mike and Steve have found a Savior in Christ. They both recognize their need to be saved, and it seems pretty clear to them both that they need both faith and good works to live a good life. James 2:17 shares “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Steve and Mike reconcile on their faith beliefs in the final moments of the film, and Mike appears to be reassured that Steve will be going home to be with God.
“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” —John 14:2
Steve gradually loses some hope during this rough journey, though. He says that he has no hope or faith that he can be healed. We all hit some major lows in life, but God can and will make all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28). And although this verse may not be said on screen, we can see God working and applying His Word to Steve’s inner character. Steve believes that his future is going to be bigger than his past, and that he can still accomplish great things, despite his illness.
“Gleason” is a powerful celebration of the human spirit and shares a wonderful message of strength, perseverance, love, and the great importance of family. Unfortunately, the film does contain a hefty amount of language and portrays some intense medical situations. All that being said, though, I still recommend “Gleason” with caution for mature audiences, because there are some great positive messages about faith and family. The film deserves an R-rating due to the language. But for ages 16+, this film is a great tool for ALS awareness and may even be a great discussion starter for those struggling with their faith in the midst of a terminal illness. “Gleason” may not clearly portray the Gospel, but the faith element is still there. The need for God is still present. And that is certainly something to be applauded.
Violence: Mild / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate
Link: Team Gleason Web site (charitable 501c3 non-profit corporation)
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.