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[Easy Chair]

Universal Use


In the 1950 film The Men, Marlon Brando in his first movie role plays Ken, a paraplegic World War II veteran struggling alongside other vets with spinal-cord injuries to learn to use wheelchairs, build their upper-body strength, and come to terms with what they assume will necessarily be diminished lives. Ken’s fiancée, Ellen, played by Teresa Wright, is sure they can put their old life together, but Ken breaks with her out of rage and self-hatred. In the final scene, chastened, he’s returned home to her. He pulls his wheelchair out of his car — folding wheelchairs were fairly new then — and pushes himself up the front walk, only to come to a stop against a step as an ominous chord plays on the sound track. We see a close-up of his stuck front wheels. Ellen comes to Ken and with gentle compassion asks whether he needs help. “Please,” he says, humbly. And she helps him get his chair over that step, and the next. The message is clear: with humility and love, disability can be dealt with, despite social, personal, and material obstacles.

What’s obvious to a viewer watching the film today is that if they just got rid of those steps, the house could be entered with no particular necessity for moral growth.

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