Matthew G. “Matty” Christian was born in Canton, Massachusetts, in 1983. He entered the world without fully formed limbs and a tongue. When he passed away in 2009, he left behind a life that was enriched with an indefatigable spirit that few people will ever be able to duplicate, let alone surpass.
In putting Matty Christian’s story on the screen, filmmaker Christian de Rezendes has deftly laced together a wealth of home videos, TV news footage, photographs and in-depth interviews with families and friends into a tribute that is, quite simply, one the most profoundly moving nonfiction films I’ve ever seen. The filmmaker – who served quadruple duty as director, co-producer, editor and cinematographer on this project – has created a work of art that forces the viewer to reconsider the notion of ability and to celebrate the gifts of being alive and being loved.
Matty was blessed with parents that never treated him as disabled and never encouraged anyone to feel sorry for him. From the beginning of his life, he was expected to be part of the everyday world. Matty mastered the use of prosthetic legs, though he could just as easily walk without them; prosthetic arms proved cumbersome and he eventually eschewed them. Surgery enabled him to master speech, albeit with a very slight impediment. A love of sports turned him into a trophy-winning athlete, with notable achievements in wrestling and swimming. His parents refused to have him segregated into so-called “special needs” classes, and Matty went on to earn both undergraduate and graduate degrees while attracting a huge circle of friends.
Throughout his life, Matty tackled numerous challenges with a can-do spirit and an occasionally insouciant aplomb. Television news stations highlighted his various accomplishments, but his greatest gift seemed to be away from the spotlight when he quietly worked with disabled young people as a camp counselor and a mentor. Matty’s accidental early death from an indelicate mixture of alcohol and prescription medicine was a cruelly abrupt ending to a life full of hope and power.
“Raising Matty Christian” is a remarkable film because it offers a startling reconsideration of what it means to be a beautiful person. By all measure, Matty defined “beautiful” in spirit, in intellect, and in body. As an athlete, he was a powerhouse in any competition, but he was also dignified in his interactions with his competition. As a son and a brother, he was loving and playful, and he treated his scholastic and athletic achievements as a family celebration rather than a solo act. As a counselor and mentor, he took young people to a higher intellectual and spiritual level, inspiring them to see beyond the boundaries that others enforced on them. As someone who was at ease with himself and the world around him, he was a magnet for those in need of friendship. And while some people mistakenly simply saw his life merely as a conquest over disability, Matty embodied a physical serenity that very few able-bodied individuals would ever hope to reach.
“Raising Matty Christian” is a brilliantly designed production. The film’s marriage of very different video media into a single cohesive unit is a technological wonder (credit goes to associate producer Paul Plotkin for that feat), and the interviews conducted here are remarkable for their frankness. (For all of his glory, Matty had a few demons, and the film is not shy about citing them.) Special attention should be given to Eric Barao’s subtle yet often haunting musical score, which perfectly matches the emotional odyssey presented on screen.
“Raising Matty Christian” is only now beginning to tiptoe its way into release. My hope is that this film goes far and wide. This work needs to be seen, talked up, cherished and honored. I am truly in awe of Matty’s life and of this inspirational record of his time on Earth.