Amazon Update No. 9: “The Best of Men”

April 21, 2015



I am not oblivious to the expressions of disdain that come over my friends’ faces when I mention that I like to watch Dancing with the Stars. But I am undeterred, because I am still fascinated watching men and women with little or no dance experience take on the rigors of learning and performing demanding routines. Even those who last only a few weeks before being eliminated usually remark that they have achieved things they never would have thought possible. And as interesting as this is with respect to able-bodied people, it rises to the level of inspiring when the dancer has a physical disability. There is no better example of that than Noah Galloway, a contestant in the current season, who lost his left arm and leg while serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army. Sgt. Galloway, who is still in the mix as the season heads into its final weeks, has turned in some thrilling performances with his partner, professional choreographer Sharna Burgess.



This potential we human beings have for resiliency despite even catastrophic illness and injury was the theme of The Best of Men, a 2012 BBC television movie about Dr. Ludwig Guttmann who fled the Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany and settled in England where he was given charge of servicemen who were hospitalized with spinal injuries. Dr. Guttmann found that care of these men consisted of making them as comfortable as possible until they died. This approach exacerbated the pessimism, depression, and anger that naturally accompanied such injuries. Dr. Guttmann proposed that physical activity, not maintenance care, was what these men needed, and that it would help them to take their places in the mainstream of society. Over the objections of some of his colleagues and staff, he got the men involved in vigorous activity such as basketball and javelin throwing and even took them on jaunts to a local pub. When World War II was over, Dr. Guttmann organized national wheelchair sports competitions which eventually evolved into the Paralympic Games. The closing credits note that Dr. Guttmann, who became a British citizen, was knighted for his achievements.



This film has an excellent cast, led by the veteran actor Eddie Marsan as Dr. Guttman; Rob Brydon as Corporal Wynne Bowen, whose dark humor masks his insecurity about his ability to relate sexually to his wife; and David Proud as Jeremy, whose circumstances are complicated by a disappointed father who would consign him to a nursing home.


2 Responses to “Amazon Update No. 9: “The Best of Men””

  1. Louis Caruso Says:

    Paolino thanks this was very interesting reading.

  2. shoreacres Says:

    This caught my attention, particularly: “Dr. Guttmann proposed that physical activity, not maintenance care, was what these men needed, and that it would help them to take their places in the mainstream of society.”

    The sailing school in which I used to teach has begun a program called Sailing Angels, which provides on-the-water experience both to variously challenged children and adults and to the Wounded Warriors program. There’s no questioning the good that they do, and it’s far more than simple “recreation.” No one who boards the boat just sits while they’re sailed around the bay. Everyone steers, helps with sails, etc.

    As for pessimism, depression, and anger, it took me quite some time after I began varnishing boats to realize that unholy trinity had essentially disappeared from my life. Certainly other aspects of the change I made contribute — I am, after all, my favorite boss ever — but there’s no doubt that the physical labor plays a part in it. I still can be tempted toward anger, but if I just stop reading the comments appended to online political articles and social media timelines, I recover in about ten minutes. 🙂

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