Frankie Fenton’s documentary “It’s Not Yet Dark” is both sadly tragic and warmly inspirational. It tells the amazing story of Irish director Simon Fitzmaurice’s physical descent as a result of acquiring Lou Gehrig’s disease. Known here as ALS and in Ireland as MND, the incurable illness, formally known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is crippling, and we observe how Fitzmaurice, totally immobile and needing aid to breathe, swallow and speak, courageously battles his state with the help of computer technology that enables him to use his eyes to record speech that enables him not only to communicate but to direct his movie, “My Name is Emily. “(See Search for its review.)
Colin Farrell narrates Fitzmaurice’s thoughts as we follow the story of his life. Fenton uses an array of photos and home movies to show Fitzmaurice before he was hit with gradual debilitation. One extremely uplifting aspect of the film is the loving relationship he found with his wife Ruth. She is extremely candid in expressing her feelings for him, and talking about their life together. She speaks of her role as helper, and how that is relieved by acquiring an assistant to do the nursing, which frees her to be wife and mother. Ruth is beautiful, charming and intelligent, and the film shows these qualities that earn our admiration. In effect, the documentary becomes a tribute to her as well as to her husband.
Another important boon for the couple is having five children together. The film doesn’t go into methodology, but we see their offspring and feel family completion and love even in the face of such a monumental challenge.
The film generates an air of triumph, especially when we watch the process of eye-operated speaking. Fenton follows the method by which Fitzmaurice directs his movie, with actors and crew responsive to him and talking about the smoothness in the way they work together.
Don’t be scared off by the subject. You will be fascinated by this remarkable journey of a remarkable man, and it is so very satisfying to watch how he refuses to be defeated by what life has dealt him.
I confess to personal reasons to be particularly moved. I have lost two step-sisters and a step-brother to Lou Gehrig’s disease, and am convinced it had to be genetic in that side of the family. I watch Fitzmaurice’s battle with familiarity and awe, and I find solace in the fact that he continues to live, love and work with amazing determination. Reviewed August 4, 2017.