The Terrill family is a unique beast. Beyond the children born into the family, the Terrills also took care of a number of foster children and, eventually, adopted a young boy they named Adam. In a unique situation, Adam is the most different, growing up with a series of mental disabilities that wax and wane even as his personality and intellect develops. It’s not about defining what afflicts Adam; he is different, and will be for the rest of his life. So what does that mean for him, and his family, as he grows up?
Sometimes, it means family get-togethers and fun times where Adam entertains all with his flag-waving skills and performances of songs or speeches. Other times, it’s family meetings where Adam, and his experiences as he tries to live away from home with an assisted living community, needs to be addressed so that Adam, and those around him, can be safe. The highs and lows, all the time, nonstop.
Gork! is a real warts-and-all documentary, and that blatant honesty can be hard to watch at times. As an outside observer who only has little bits and pieces here and there to go on, it’s hard to understand the exasperation felt by the family. I’m not in their shoes, and I cannot pretend to know how I would handle the situation myself. To that end, however, I have to say that both the audience and the family are blessed to have Adam’s sister Autumn as a gateway into the life of the Terrills.
When things are getting a little too uncomfortable, and it feels like the family is relating to Adam more as a problem that needs dealing with as opposed to a person with a life and a soul, you get to at least see and hear Autumn’s take. Through her one-woman show that celebrates her brother, and appropriately lampoons her sometimes dysfunctional family, we see that Autumn has a great sense of humor and that the drive to perform is not something held only by Adam. At the same time, as she extends her caring beyond just her brother to start her own practice to help others who are mentally disabled, you see how truly caring and intelligent a woman she is. Gork! is as much her film, maybe even moreso, than it is Adam’s.
There’s a moment near the end of the film where an exhausted Mrs. Terrill talks honestly about how she cares for Adam, but also cares for the rest of her children and doesn’t want Adam’s life to negatively impact theirs going forward. She doesn’t want anyone to sacrifice themselves for Adam, and that if they do so, she doesn’t feel like she did right by them. It’s a heartbreaking moment that is hard to understand and grasp, and something that only comes into focus when you see it through the eyes of someone who has very little left to give, and doesn’t want to see anyone else hit the same wall.
Again, this is a hard documentary to watch because it is so honest. I think it would be extremely easy to judge the Terrill family harshly at times, but I think to do so would be unfair. Sometimes things get so hard that all you think about is the rough and tumble of it all, and it’s easy to dwell. That’s life, and it happens. I don’t think anyone in the family is a bad person; I think some are more tired and weak, at the point they spoke candidly on camera, than others. That ugly reality is a challenge to confront, even as an audience. But it’s true.
In the end, even for all the troubles and challenges that Adam has dealt with, or caused, he is one of a number of Terrill children who have grown up happy, positive and secure in themselves and their personalities. To Mrs. Terrill, you obviously did very right by all of them. Especially Adam.
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