Life. Support. Music.

When I first saw Eric Daniel Metzgar’s poignant, lyrical, and understated Life. Support. Music. (POV) at the 2008 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, I was moved by the story of Jason Crigler, a talented New York musician who suffered a near-fatal brain hemorrhage while playing guitar onstage at a New York club.  At the time of his brain hemmorhage, Crigler was a rising star in the New York music scene with a new CD soon to be released.  His wife was pregnant with their first child.  In the days after his collapse, Jason’s family was told that he would likely remain in a near-vegetative state.  But rather than accepting that diagnosis, Jason’s family and friends rallied together working around the clock to provide the care Jason needed to recover from what happened.  As Metzgar, the film’s director and a friend of the family, observes, the film reveals the family’s “intense optimism” and their “incandescent love,” as well as their sheer determination to help Jason rebuild his life.

Metzgar’s amazement at the power of the Crigler family is evident throughout.  Other than brief interviews with doctors who confirm their initial prognosis that they believed Jason would remain in a vegetative state, the story belongs to Jason’s family and friends who recount the decisions they made and their own excitement as Jason gradually began to recover, each step–walking unassisted for the first time, picking up and playing the guitar again–a small miracle.  Metzgar’s gentle, almost whispered, voice-over helps to underscore the personal connection to Jason and his family.

But as I watched the film a second time with my girl friend, a nurse practitioner, a number of other questions and observations began to emerge, many of them confirming the miraculous nature of the story while others helped to place the film in a more specific context, one that isn’t entirely disconnected from our current battles over health care, among other questions.  In a passing comment in the narration, Metzgar mentions that Crigler had exhausted his lifetime cap of $1 million from his medical insurance, and when he entered Boston’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, he did so by relying on support from Medicaid.  Later, as family bills begin to mount, Jason’s friends in the music industry, including Norah Jones, Marshall Crenshaw, and Tommy Thompson,  rallied to support him with a series of benefit concerts, showing just how fortunate Crigler was to have the financial support needed to make his recovery possible.

At the same time, the film quietly asks questions about what happens to the “self” of the person who suffers a traumatic brain injury.  One of the doctors who treated Jason, Dr. Christopher Carter, remarks that “Scientifically, he wasn’t there,” but the family sees Jason’s “self” in small gestures, the little details or movements that hint that Jason’s personality still exists somewhere inside.  But while these questions exist on the edges of the film, Life. Support. Music. is primarily a film about both a family and an individual who refused to give up, even in the face of what seemed like an impossible recovery.

Life. Support. Music, will be broadcast as part of PBS’s POV documentary series on July 7, 2009.

4 Comments »

  1. Dian Said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

    As a parent of a teenager who suffered a cerebral hemmorhage in March 2007 from an AVM, I am besides myself that this film has been produced. My daughter was lucky to emerge from her trauma with only minimal verbal processing, organization, memory and vision issues, but it was and remains an utterly life changing event. My daughter has lost most of her childhood memories. She is articulate but struggles to keep up with conversations. She’s an artist that finds it hard to organize herself to get art done. She stands on the brink of community college and we hold our breath hoping support will allow her to do it. Brain injury is enormous: at times utterly devastating but often so subtle but deeply disruptive of what was there. There is a desperate lack of support for families and little societal understanding of long term consequences, to the family and the person injured: financial, emotional and spiritual. Thank you so much for airing this show. I only hope that at some point it is shown in primetime in my region of the country (Washington DC). Right now only time listed is 12:30 am on July 12th.

  2. Chuck Said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

    Hi Dian. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m not affiliated with PBS, but I’ve been an admirer of this film for over a year, so I’m glad they’re picking it up. If I’m not mistaken, I think the film may be available online here in a few days. If anyone from PBS happens to stop by, feel free to confirm or correct my speculations.

  3. Chuck Said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

    By the way, here is an interesting interview with the film’s director that addresses some of the issues about brain injuries and the science of the brain that you’ve addressed.

  4. Dlea Said,

    December 3, 2009 @ 11:04 pm

    I have just ordered the film and am looking forward to watching it.

    My niece’s best friend has been in a coma for nearly three weeks since experiencing an AVM hemmorhage. She’s just 18 and competes internationally in Irish dance.

    They have been trying to bring her out of a coma for more than a week but she goes into seizures every time. Her parents are in the “waiting time” and don’t have a lot of answers {and the ones they do get are of grim prognosis.} I hope Jason’s experiences will help them as they navigate the unknown.

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