One of the most powerful movies to see release this year has to be Stronger. The film tells the story of Jeff Bauman, a survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing who lost both his legs as a result of the blast. A photo taken of him in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy came to represent strength through unimaginable adversity, and Bauman went on to write a memoir about the bombing and his experiences afterward, which is what the film is based on. But now that the movie is completed, what does Jeff Bauman think of Stronger?
Obviously, making a movie about such a tragic event so close after it happened — and focusing on the life of a still-living victim of said event — is going to bring some controversy. This film, however, has brought more controversy than most. Jake Gyllenhaal portrays Bauman in the film, and since the actor has two working legs, some felt that this should have disqualified him from taking the role. Perhaps the highest-profile critique of the casting decision came from The Ruderman Family Foundation, an organization dedicated to making sure people with disabilities are fully included in society — and they weren't happy at the perceived exclusion of consideration for disabled actors in the role.
"The casting of Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead in the movie Stronger is the perfect example on Hollywood’s ongoing systemic discrimination against actors with disabilities," said Jay Ruderman, the organization's president, in a statement released on their website. "By his own admission, Director David Gordon Green never even considered any other actors in a role in which Gyllenhaal plays a character who is a double amputee. By not even giving actors who are amputees the chance to audition for the role awarded to Gyllenhaal, Green effectively denied actors with disabilities to even be considered for the role." Clearly, some in the disabled community are upset about the film, but is Bauman one of them?
It doesn't appear as though Bauman had any issues with Gyllenhaal taking the role. The pair spent a lot of time together working on the film (Gyllenhaal produced the film in addition to starring in it) and have actually become good friends; a relationship that has lasted well beyond filming. Bauman even reaches out to the actor for advice and encouragement when he's feeling depressed. "I’ll say 'I'm really down' and he'll call me," Bauman told the Los Angeles Times' Amy Kaufman of Gyllenhaal. "We'll talk, and he'll give me some positive info and just remind me that I have to focus on myself and making me a better person."
Bauman has watched the film, and parts of it initially angered and upset him. However, this wasn't because of any inaccurate portrayals on the part of the production. Rather, it was because the film hit too close to home; touching on not only Bauman's injuries, but also his relationship troubles and issues with alcohol and depression that took place after the bombing. "At first, I was like, 'That how Dave [Gordon Green] and Jake [Gyllenhaal] see me? Like a piece of work?'" he told the LA Times. "It portrayed me partying and drinking and not showing up for therapy once a week when I should have been there three times a week. That's real. I was lost going through this. He got me totally right, but was hard to face it and see that other people saw that ... But it also made me realize a couple days later: Look at me now. I’m doing great, and I just gotta keep going."
Overall, it seems as if Bauman approves of the movie Stronger. While the depiction of his life — specifically the most difficult parts of it — was hard for him to watch, he has indicated that he feels the film tells his story with accuracy and care.