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45 min / documentary / 2000 / Canada

filmmaker: Matthew Welsh

This provocative documentary tells the story of the conflicted relationship between two men coping with the consequences of severe, traumatic brain injury. Breakaway tells the complex story of two men who live with brain injury.

Robert Hessian was a popular young man whose near-fatal hockey accident and miracle recovery story captivated his hometown. Doug Rafuse was a young father of three who crashed his car after drinking; his injuries left him with limited abilities and a bleak existence in nursing homes. Robert persuaded Doug to give rehabilitation a new try, believing that anyone can recover from brain injury with hard work. He puts Doug through the paces in a house they now own together. The film shows the triumphs as well as the heart-wrenching moments of doubt, contrasting Robert’s dogged determination with Doug’s sometimes flagging spirit. They don’t have the wholehearted support of doctors or family, particularly since Robert has no medical training. But he does have determination, verging on obsession. Is the effort inspired or self-serving? Breakaway is a riveting documentary about extreme will and frustration, prompting debate about the limits and expectations we place on ourselves and others.

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