However much a film strives to be accurate, there is never going to be a true reflection of reality. And this was the case in the film adaption of Jonathan Evison’s novel ‘The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving’. The story follows Ben Benjamin, played by Paul Rudd, who after suffering a life-changing tragedy becomes a carer for a wheelchair-bound disabled teenager named Trevor Conklin.
Having been involved in the research process prior to shooting, I was keen to see how accurate the film titled ‘Fundamentals of Caring’ would be. In the end I wasn’t left disappointed. Given the disabled teenager, has my progressive, physical condition ‘Duchenne Muscular Dsytrophy’ (DMD) I was asked to offer my perspective on the disability to the actor Craig Roberts playing the character.
Not all of what happened in the film was truthful though, as it failed to show the average level of care someone with my condition needs and their physical capabilities. For example, a hoist was never used for transferring and it is not advisable for someone in their late teens with the condition to be lifted by a carer. But there was no holding back on showing areas like the importance of daily routines.
Most from the outside looking in would not appreciate the importance of structure for those with complex medical difficulties but after watching this film they would hopefully have a better understanding. Everyday Trevor follows the same pattern and this is something the carer, Ben, has to get used to.
The teenager might therefore be seen as someone with a fussy personality, but with the level of support he requires it is necessary to have the same system in place to follow otherwise care becomes disjointed. For example, on Ben’s first day as Trevor’s carer, his mother, Elsa Conklin, meticulously goes through all the medication he requires on a daily basis.
Obviously the perfect scenario would have been to give a completely accurate picture of DMD, but interest would be quickly lost for wider audiences if the film just focussed on physical care. Anyway, the story was originally written for a book so there was a clear narrative to follow from the outset – the relationship between Trevor and his carer. It was enough for all the different elements of Trevor’s care, from leg stretches to medication to breathing aids, to be touched on briefly.
Reflected in the opening line, ‘Caregiving is not just about feeding and clothing and cleaning.’, there is a lot more to the role than providing physical support for someone. Having someone to interact and socialise with is just as important. This is exactly who Trevor finds through Ben and after getting to know one another well, they eventually decide to go on a road trip across parts of America so Trevor can see some of the sights he has only heard about on TV. This is also to get him out of the house which only happens for a few hours each week at the park.
Without his carer though the adventure would not have been feasible. His mother has a full-time banking job and the father left the scene when his son was aged three, just after his diagnosis. There are some with my condition who, with circumstances like these, do not get regular opportunities to go out so it was pleasing the storyline was able to accommodate real-life scenarios.
Because of the time they were spending with one another, the pair developed a strong friendship, and this was not just a storytelling tool, this is what can commonly happen with full-time carers. From start to finish the film dealt with all the human aspects in a delicate yet powerful way, demonstrating the significance of relationships with carers rather than just what their role is on face value. They forge a relationship that allows them to deal with the intimate parts of Trevor’s care in a light-hearted fashion that embraces rather than saves any embarrassment.
On the retired writer’s first ever interview for a caring role, his soon to be client immediately cuts to the chase with the most decisive question, ‘Tell me, Ben, give the opportunity how exactly would you wipe my ass?’. The reply also fails to beat around the bush, ‘I would wipe it such in a way that when I was done, there would not be shit left on your ass.’ The job is then his. I wouldn’t recommend this strategy but being upfront and honest about your care is necessary. It is something I have had to improve on, but despite having the same condition we are all unique in our personality. Trevor may sometimes come across as rude, but I would argue against this being an outcome of his disability, as he says himself ‘maybe I’m just a prick, with or without the wheelchair.’
By fate the different yet equally harsh circumstances bring Trevor and Ben together. One has a disability and difficult family situation to contend with while the other has just been through a family break-up following the death of his child in a road accident three years prior to the new job. And overall I believe it is through their relationship that greater awareness of caring and DMD will be raised. Whether or not you have any knowledge of caring or DMD prior to watching the film, anyone can relate to relationships as most in some capacity have them.