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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

Robin Cavendish is good looking and athletic, but nothing particularly special, really. He's a British Army vet turned international tea broker.

Diana Blacker, meanwhile, is a beautiful socialite known for her headstrong ways. And it's likely that Robin's biggest claim to fame up to the 27th year of his life is that he somehow caught the eye and won the heart of that sought-after beauty. After making her Mrs. Cavendish, Robin whisks her away with him to the wilds of Africa.

It's there that they travel about in married bliss. It's there that they joyfully discover Diana is pregnant. And it's there, in 1958, that Robin is mysteriously stricken with polio and loses all bodily motor control.

The young man collapses and is rushed to the hospital. And his paralyzed body isn't even responsive enough to breathe the air he needs. He can survive only with the aid of a medical respirator. A permanent respirator, it turns out, for there is no cure for his horrible disease.

Robin is despondent. He has a beautiful wife who unflinchingly stands by his side. He has a son on the way. He has friends who love him dearly. But the prospect of being locked into (what a doctor predicts will be less than two months of) a miserable existence in a lifeless body that's plugged into machine … holds no appeal. After a long stretch of wallowing in his grief Robin tells his loving wife simply to leave him to die and get on with her life.

"It wouldn't look good," Diana replies crisply with an arched brow. "And apparently, I love you."

Breathe is the story of this couple's life together, their challenges and victories, their love and loss, and all the unexpected things that take place over the next several decades—not just the next several months.

[Note: Spoilers are contained in the sections below.]

Positive Elements

Truthfully, it's Diana's love and unwavering commitment to Robin that keeps him going and affords them a rich life together. She holds Robin accountable: accountable for their marital commitment to each other and accountable to his commitment to meet, love and raise his son. She also fights for the previously unheard-of right to take Robin home and care for him herself. And then when she's accomplished that, she works toward other ways of giving her crippled husband a sense of purpose and freedom from his bonds. "I went on living because of her, really. And with her. And for her," Robin tells a group of doctors later.

An inventor and good friend named Teddy helps create a mobile "Cavendish Chair" that has a built-in respirator and lets Robin get outside. Other mobility-focused inventions spring from that one. In fact, Robin eventually becomes an advocate and promoter for the well-being of the severely handicapped through the Disability Research Foundation.

Robin sees his son grow into a man, he sees his relationships flourish, and he sees many positive things happen for other disabled people over the course of his much-longer-than-expected life. And the film credits all of that to the Cavendish's making a choice to fight for his life when all else seemed lost.

After Robin comes to the point when his body can no longer continue, he gathers with friends who speak of their love for him and the impact he's long had on their lives.

Spiritual Content

One of the Cavendish's female friends suggests, "God gave men jobs so that women can have time to themselves."

After Robin contracts polio and loses all motor functions, a priest speaks to him about his plight being part of God's plan. In anger, Robin spits in the man's face. He then opines, "God's a joke." Another polio victim joins in, saying, "God's a joker."

That sentiment is echoed again later on when Robin's life support system is damaged while he and the family are traveling in Spain. A group of locals gather to give support, and a priest says, "Almighty God likes to play jokes on us."

Sexual Content

We see a bit of Robin's bare backside as a nurse is cleaning him up. At a party, a friend tells both Robin and Diana that his wife has left him. Later the couple talk about it and Robin lightly suggests that the friend may have wanted Diana to comfort him.

Their conversation also wanders into Robin's lament that his wife has had to be so isolated in the sexual sense. She tosses the idea aside. She then strips to her slip, cuddles up to her crippled husband and kisses his face repeatedly. Robin jokes lightly with his wife about all the "affairs" his disability has kept him from having.

Elsewhere, she makes a coyly suggestive quip about being the one who does all the work, implying that there still might be some kind of intimacy in their marriage.

Violent Content

When Robin is first stricken with the disease, a doctor makes a small incision in his neck with a scalpel. After Robin comes home, a pet accidentally pulls the plug on his respirator and we watch as he struggles for air, almost dying.

Later in the film, Robin has several "attacks" where blood gushes profusely from his mouth and the respiration hole in his neck. Robin's late-teens son, Jonathan, is called in to help and he looks on in horror at his struggling, bleeding father. A doctor reports that Robin's lungs and trachea are finally giving out after many years of mechanical respiration support and that Robin will soon succumb.

Elsewhere, Robin's friend Colin tells a story of a group of fighting men who died by the strength of their own willpower.

Crude or Profane Language

One s-word and one use each of "h---," "b--tard" and the English crudities "bugger" and "bloody." God's name is misused several times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Many of Robin and Diana's friends smoke, and we see quite a few do so when they get together for parties and dinners. They drink wine at these gatherings, too. Both Robin and Diana join in on this aspect of the celebrations. At one point, he says he wants to get drunk.

Other Negative Elements

Though we don't actually see it happen, it's clearly implied that a doctor friend gives Robin a life-ending drug of some kind shortly before he likely would have succumbed anyway.

Robin's physician-assisted suicide isn't the narrative focus of the film in the same vein as other more blatantly pro-euthanasia films, such as Million Dollar Baby and the more recent Me Before You. In fact, it's so subtle that many viewers may not even notice it. That said, the particulars of Robin's case still invite us to sympathize with his choice, which is nevertheless a morally and philosophically troubling one—and the biggest issue, by far, with this otherwise inspiring film.

Elsewhere, we see Diana taking care of Robin's urinary functions, though everything is kept off camera.


It's never easy to choose to plop down hard-earned cash and watch a film about someone's suffering. Perhaps that's because we moviegoers tend to project ourselves into a well-made and involving story of loss and struggle. And that sense of personal identification can make us, well, uncomfortable.

However, some stories are worth the extra measure of unease they provoke. They're stories that paradoxically depict suffering yet uplift and inspire at the same time. They're tales that give us a peek at possible affirmations in the midst of potential anguish. Narratives that inform us in ways we might not expect.

Breathe is that kind of cinematic story.

First time director Andy Serkis, as well as leads Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, take Robin and Diana Cavendish's tragic, real-world journey and they delicately mold it into a golden-hued romance that radiates a quiet but ardent joy.

Their film doesn't show us all the painful nitty gritty of Robin's disability. It doesn't have to. It gives us just enough to make its message lauding committed love and the intimate treasures of life all that more poignant. Ultimately, it's let down only by Robin's final request for a physician friend to end his life for him after decades of suffering.

For the most part, though, Breathe helps us see that even a severely limited existence is something to be held up as precious: It's something that can reach out and change others, even amid the worst of circumstances.

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Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Andrew Garfield as Robin Cavendish; Claire Foy as Diana Cavendish; Ed Speleers as Colin Campbell; Tom Hollander as Bloggs Blacker and David Blacker; Hugh Bonneville as Teddy Hall; Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Dr. Don McQueen; Dean-Charles Chapman as Jonathan


Andy Serkis ( )


Bleecker Street Media



Record Label



In Theaters

October 27, 2017

On Video

January 2, 2018

Year Published



Bob Hoose

Content Caution

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