Not Rated. Running time: 1 hour 40 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 0; Language 1
Our star rating (1-5): 5
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
Psalm 131:1 (RSV)
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
Director Chris Karcher and Terry Parish’s documentary, set on Spain’s famous El Camino de Santiago, is one of those stand up and cheer films. Celebrating the incredible friendship of Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray, it is a testimony to the power of love and perseverance and, in the last portion, of community. Compared to the world-saving struggles of movie superheroes, the pair’s completion in 34 days of a 500-mile journey by wheelchair across mountains, deserts, hills, and valleys might not seem as consequential, but I can assure you that you will feel far more elated at the end of this film than after viewing any Marvel Film epic.
As we see in photos and family film clips, Justin and Patrick have been life-long friends, each having served as Best Man at each other’s weddings. They are not about to let Justin’s rare neurological disease, the results of an injury in an auto accident when he was in his teens, disrupt that when it robs him of the use of his arms and legs. So, when he had Patrick watch with him a tape of a PBS show about The Camino de Santiago, and he expresses the wish to travel it, his friend’s first reaction were the words that comprise the film’s title.
This would prove to be quite a struggle, because Multifocal Acquired Motor Axonopathy (MAMA) had so devastated Justin’s body through the years by causing his autoimmune system to attack his nervous system. Without the use of his limbs he was totally dependent on others for even the simplest of functions such as eating, washing, brushing his teeth, putting on his clothes, or going to the bathroom. And as they soon found out when they set forth in the French Pyrenees, the Camino de Santiago often is so rugged that it requires pulling as well as pushing. For a couple of weeks, they have another friend to help them up and down the rock-strewn road, but because his employer gave him just a couple of weeks off, the friend must return to his job in the States. Fortunately, a host of pilgrims along the way lend their hands from time to time.
At night, it is just the two of them, and we see how well Patrick’s devotion to his friend illustrates the “as I love you” of Jesus’ words to his disciples. Patrick’s is a sacrificial love, requiring him to extricate the wheelchair amidst the mud and muck at the beginning of the trail, as well as negotiate it through narrow doorways of bathrooms. Fortunately, he is young and in possession of a strong back because he has to pick up his friend from the chair and place him onto the toilet. Both are dog-tired at the end of a day of hiking, but the strenuous tasks of using the toilet, brushing teeth, and taking a bath must be completed before either of them can sleep. And then it’s up before sunrise the next day to repeat all the processes. The film is honest enough to show us some of the moments when one or the other are overwhelmed briefly by mishaps—early on the tri-wheeled wheelchair’s front wheel breaks, and they must search for a while before they can find a mechanic who can weld it back on—but they quickly recover and continue on.
In the final leg of the journey a whole group of pilgrims who have heard about the heroic pair meet up with them and lend a hand, this setting Patrick to reflect upon the importance of community. The climactic scene in which Justin’s wife is on hand to cheer on her husband in Santiago probably will bring a tear to your eyes. Justin and Patrick’s story has been featured in such venues as People, The Today Show, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The New York Daily Post, Spiegel, and The Daily Mail, and now in this inspiring film. If you enjoyed Gleason, featuring diseased-wracked NFL player Steve Gleason, the fictional story The Way, or the currently showing Stronger, you will also love this film.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the October issue of Visual Parables.
NOTE: The film opens nation-wide in over 550 theater on Thursday night, November 2nd, at 7:30 p.m. (all times local). You can find your nearest theater and purchase tickets here: https://www.fathomevents.com/events/ill-push-you/theaters