It’s always said that the best stories are the ones that make you reassess your perceptions of life, coax you to look at things with a slightly different lens. Stuart Shorter’s story definitely falls into that category.
I’ll be honest. It was Benedict Cumberbatch’s role in this film that made me seek it out. I’ve already got several things queued up after stalking his IMDB profile, something which every grade one fan does. I was definitely expecting to be entertained. But I wasn’t expecting to be blown away. I wasn’t expecting to have my feet swept out from under me, to be short of breath, and have sobs tearing out of me to my own surprise. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Stuart: A Life Backwards tells the story of Alexander Masters, a writer who decides to document the life of his new friend, Stuart Shorter. In his spare time, Alexander does some extra work helping the homeless, and it’s through this work that he comes to meet Stuart.
Stuart isn’t exactly homeless – it turns out that he does have a small flat, and even a car (although he doesn’t have a license). It’s just that he can’t rely on a steady income, because he’s unable to hold a job, because he’s so maladjusted to society. And he’s so maladjusted to society, because society messed him up in the first place.
I’ll be even more honest. Stuart’s story is sad, okay? You might have already deduced that from my earlier slip about sobbing my guts out. But it just is so bloody sad. My insides are still crying for him and I saw the film two days ago. My mind is still in the story which probably tells you how good a story it was.
Or maybe it just tells you how obsessed I am.
But never fear. Well, fear a little.
You don’t have to fear a lot, though, because there are some great moments in this film. The brightest part of this story is the friendship between Alexander and Stuart. They are an unlikely pair. Despite the fact that Alexander’s helping out at the shelter, and obviously has an interest in helping the homeless, he seems almost flippant in his role. At the start of the film, anyway.The friendship starts off cautiously, and then it careens into overdrive when Stuart (almost) barges into Alexander’s flat; following that the two are pretty much thrown together as they work on a campaign to save Alexander’s two bosses as well as the book that Alexander has decided to write about Stuart.
Stuart: Do it backwards. Like a murder mystery. Like a bestseller. You know, like what Tom Clancy writes. How did I get to be like this? What murdered the little boy I was?
The film has a sort of rough, unpolished look to it, a look which, to be honest, I didn’t immediately take to. I actually felt it was a bit of a failing when I first saw it, but as the film progressed it grew on me. And now looking back, it actually seems very suitable. Its simplicity brings a depth of reality to the story, which is quite apt as the film is based on a true story. The realness emphasizes how much closer such stories are, how present the darker stories are, hiding behind other shinier lives.
It captures the roughness and rawness of life, as well as the mundane and the wonderful. The best parts were Alexander and Stuart simply being friends and laughing together. It made me so happy to see their relationship grow into this easy and comfortable connection, especially when that friendship was contrasted with the far darker aspects of Stuart’s life.
Alexander: You’ll be okay? Call me if you need any help. 2am, 4am. Anytime.
And there are definitely a lot of dark moments. Dark things happening to Stuart, dark things happening around Stuart, dark things happening because of Stuart. There is just so much dark in his life, but thankfully the dark is dispersed with some moments of light as well. After watching the film in its entirety I was actually surprised that Stuart wasn’t worse off than he actually was. In fact, by the end I had come to the conclusion that Stuart was actually pretty well adjusted considering all the horrible, awful things he had had to endure.
Alexander: If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
Stuart: Well, how much is one thing? It’s easy to blame, isn’t it? Muscular dystrophy . . . Gavvy. Honestly, it’d be easier to change me.
Alexander: One thing only.
Stuart: The day I discovered violence.
The day that I found violence, I felt fifty times more strong. . . After you’ve been bullied, and pushed about, and called ‘spastic’, you learn . . . that violence, and fear of violence and madness, it scares people. I used to deliberately get myself enraged. And after six months, I found I couldn’t stop.
Stuart: You know what, Alexander? Sometimes . . . I think I’m the child of the devil. I let the devil in. Now I can’t get him out. I tried . . . burnin’ ‘im out, and cuttin’ ‘im out. He just say, ‘no, no’. Why should he? He don’t want to be homeless.
Those lines. They hook me. And I don’t mean ‘hook me’ as in grab by attention immediately and completely. I mean, they’re painful, as if metal hooks are sinking into my insides. I’m not sure if those lines were written specifically for the film or if Stuart himself actually said that. Turns out that the local library does have Alexander Masters’ book so I plan on reading it and finding out for myself.
This film just keeps weighing on my mind, forcing me to think about how I may have judged too quickly and harshly, making me question my own level of ignorance and capability for compassion, as well as marvel at the immense strength of Stuart Shorter.
I can’t wait to read that book.
Edit: I just noticed that I made a hideous mistake: I did not mention Tom Hardy’s acting at all, which considering the effect this film has had on me could either be an indication of my colossal idiocy or excuse me from such harsh judgment.
How, you ask? Well, because Hardy’s acting totally immersed me in the film. At no point did I think, “Oh, Bane’s doing a pretty good job of playing a homeless man plagued by real-life nightmares.” All I saw was Stuart – his life, his struggles, and his emotions. I was lost in Stuart’s world for the entirety of the film. And I think that speaks volumes for Hardy’s acting, more than any of my attempts at commentary could.