It's very much a documentary about the documentarian, so in that sense it has some things in common with films like Super Size Me and Roger and Me, but what surprised me about Living Proof is just how candid a look it is into Embry's emotional landscape. When I first watched his web videos over at MS Hope, Embry struck me as a pretty macho guy with an ironclad veneer that was probably lined with kevlar. And yet, Living Proof starts with Embry breaking down in tears, and it's one of many similar scenes in the film. Throughout Living Proof, he really takes his guard down. The movie is about a guy with a message, but it's simultaneously about a guy undergoing a struggle, facing his worst fears, and not knowing what to do next. You get the sense that he needed to make this film for himself as much as for all of us, and that's an interesting balance.
So, what's Embry's message for people with MS? He keeps it really simple in the film:
- Look beyond the empty promises of the current lineup of expensive and dangerous drugs that have been shown to do nothing to change the longterm coarse of the disease
- Follow an anti-inflammatory diet that's rich in veggies and fish and moderate in all other respects
- Take your vitamin D
Now, on this blog and on YouTube I've talked about the eight or nine things I have been doing to stay healthy with MS, but there is something digestible about Embry's much more concise message. With that said, I half wished the film had discussed the importance of things like stress reduction, rest, and avoiding the heat.
Like all good documentaries, Living Proof is exhaustive: he talks to some who are truly suffering from the disease, and others who are thriving with MS. He talks with old folks and younger ones, and with an array of doctors who share his opinions about the MS Society being a promotional arm of the pharmaceutical industry. He even gets insights from other contemporary advocates for diet-and-exercise like Terry Wahls and David Lyons of the MS Fitness Challenge, so it's a film capturing many of the outspoken advocates for diet and exercise in the non-pharmacological treatment of MS. A few folks (like George Jelinek and Conor Kerley) are absent, but you can't do it all.
Like Roger and Me, Embry invites the MS Society of Canada to one of his public lectures to discuss/debate how their pill-popping and drug-injecting approach to the disease differs from his ... but it should be no surprise that they don't show up. Much of his movie is a condemnation of the MS Society of Canada, and it sounds a lot like the National MS Society here in the US, which is clearly all about funding academics and promoting expensive, dangerous, underproductive drugs.
What I like most about Living Proof is how, at its core, it is a protest movie. It is a protest against the view that having MS necessarily means total deterioration of the nervous system over time, and it is a protest against those (MS Societies globally and big-pharma) who only promote the money-making non-solution of dangerous drugs. Embry is a film maker, so he made a powerfully emotional and personal protest film trying to do just one thing: help people with MS cut through the clouds and clouds of misinformation about the disease.
Out walking the dog this evening, after finishing the movie, I kept thinking about other avenues for intervention: journal articles that need to be written questioning the overly narrow focus of MS research that I find in my monthly perusals of PubMed, an accessibly book that synthesizes the many very similar diet-based approaches to MS (Swank, Jelinek, Wahls, Embry), and other kinds of accessible online content and new media spaces. So that is to say that I felt inspired to act by Living Proof ... and to keep going with my approach to the disease, which is a lot like Matt Embry's.