ShiftMS‘s new film, Gallop, premiered at the National Theatre this month. I was lucky enough to be there, to have the chance to respond to the film and to join the filmmakers in conversation. I have since watched the film again and what I said at the premiere, recalled below, to my mind still holds.
It’s quite something to watch a diagnosis scene like that. It takes me straight back to my own, although when I think about that it is not so much the diagnosis I remember, but the advice I was given afterwards. ‘You’re diagnosis is as mild as they get, Andrew. Do what you can to put it to the back of your mind and get on with life. And steer clear of the MS websites – they’re not for people like you.’
And looking back now I can see he was right. I know this because obviously I ignored his advice, and in doing so ended up swamped by a wave of information reaching across the full spectrum of MS. A lot of it wasn’t for me. Much of it was frightening and dispiriting. I turned from these websites and ran. I ran away in all respects. And this is why looking back I can also see that my neurologist’s advice was wrong. I think I struggled on my own for far too long.
A couple of years later I found ShiftMS, or rather ShiftMS found me, George having somehow found me on Twitter. Within a few weeks I was sat in a bar with other young MSers, swapping stories, frustrations and advice. The stuff I was learning felt personalized, tailored. The same ethos which prevails on the ShiftMS website too, with it’s post it note questions and suggestions I have used and contributed to since. It has made me a fan of personalised, rather than broadcast, information.
So I was surprised to learn that ShiftMS was making a film. Films can’t be personalised and tailored – was Shift really going to move into one-size-fits-all information? But having watched the film I’m not sure that’s what it does.
It avoids this fate through setting aside information and taking a more expressive, emotional path. Look again at that diagnosis scene. Here was the chance for the information money-shot: what MS is, how it might progress, what treatments are available. But all detail is muffled – instead we are lost in one man’s confusion. There is no information in there other than what we learn about the messy eating habits of neurologists. This is not a film about what MS is. It is a film about how it looks and feels.
The visuals of course go beyond realism with the appearances of the magical white horse – a metaphor running throughout Gallop. And use of mystery and metaphor is how the film avoids becoming a one-size-fits-all exercise. The beauty of metaphor and emotion generally is how they create the space for you to bring your own experiences to the film in a way that an information broadcast wouldn’t allow. It keeps the film personalized, tailored. It keeps it ShiftMS.
At How the Light Gets In, philosopher Robert Rowland Smith described how metaphors, while containing no knowledge, can nevertheless help you think. Gallop has this – it has the potential to help people think about MS. And perhaps, I hope, to think differently.