Eeeeeee. A profoundly uncomfortable watch. Handsome is a documentary about Nick and his brother Alex, who has Down’s Syndrome, as they talk to other siblings in the UK, USA, India and Vietnam about providing lifelong daily care for a sibling with Down’s.
So, as someone with lifelong mental health issues, my teeth are immediately set on edge whenever it comes to other people’s problems with your disability, like it’s about them, not you, and other ableist tropes. And my back gets immediately up when you see able-bodied people talking to each other about disabled people’s experiences over their heads like they’re not even there. But to pull away from my knee-jerk reaction, I also have no experience of what it is like to provide 24 hour basic daily care for someone on a indefinite timescale.
Alex is 23 and still cannot wash and dress himself, and even sometimes has issues using the bathroom. That’s a level of care beyond my experience. And as life expectancy grows for adults with Down’s, Alex can expect to outlive his parents, and the question is, who will provide his care then?
Nick wants to become Alex’s full-time carer and is currently living with him, but as he enters into his mid-20s, he is having to look frankly at their future. The discussions with the other siblings highlights issues like careers, starting your own family, and potentially having kids in the future. If Nick were to pursue a career and increase his earning potential, he could provide for Alex financially, but wouldn’t be available for that full-time care. Also, such responsibilities are going to make dating and finding a partner more difficult, and how will those responsibilities be balanced if young children come on the scene? At the start of the film, Nick’s focus seems to be gathering info on how he can make his and Alex’s life together work, but by the end, he seems to have come to the decision that he needs to pull back, and establish his own life first, before he can make a place for Alex in it.
I found so many things about this documentary problematic, literally too many to reiterate, but I was particularly struck by the choice to show Nick washing Alex. Nick constantly emphasises how little Alex understands, which makes me question what his understanding was when he consented to being filmed naked for the documentary. This is just one of a thousand choices that just made me cringe.
I suppose you have to give the film credit for being unyieldingly frank, and close to the bone regarding this hugely important and intimate issue. At the same time, it comes with a weight of massively problematic ideas, and while I don’t want to downplay the reality, it can feel very difficult to watch at times.