The Possibilities are Endless – Edwyn Collins up from the deep. (SFF Film Review)
The Possibilities are Endless is now showing at The Sydney Film Festival
As with his music, it is useless to expect something mainstream and inspirational in the documentary about Edwyn Collins’ journey from the depths of his immediate and shocking coma to the man back on stage today. This is not a story for the great “us” eager to be reassured over our popcorn that if we have this experience, there is always that arduous battle that, if chosen, can get us out of it, right? Just think of Edwyn Collins and you’ll be cool. This documentary by James Hall and Edward Lovelace is, instead a piece that brings us into the heart of the disorientation of Collin’s new world and is more often frightening and dispiriting than it is inspirational, and that is to take nothing away from the magnitude of Collin’s rehabilitation at the hand of his devoted wife Grace Maxwell with whom he has a complex and sometimes acerbic relationship. The Possibilities are Endless is something of an avant guard art piece at times, accompanied by Collin’s halted voiceover and his made soundtrack which contains its own kind of chilling grip. It’s meandering and slow, like rehabilitation itself and by no means an easy view, but those who can stick with it, will find it has many rewards buried inside.
The story goes, Edwyn Collins complained of feeling sick on 18 February 2005 and two days later he was admitted to intensive care after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. He suffered a second one on the 25th, in a coma for ten days which left him in an almost vegetative state where he could only say “yes”, “no”, his wife’s name, “Grace Maxwell” and the phrase “The Possibilities are Endless.” From there, and under the close observation and determined push from his wife, Edwyn Collins forces his way back into life so that he is able to write music and perform again. His rehabilitation included a lot of walking over challenging terrain, drawing and writing songs again, his long-suffering and enormously patient wife at his side all the way.
While this is the story of Edwyn Collins, constantly at the forefront of his family’s life, it is also the story of Grace Maxwell and their son William Collins. Edwyn Collins has been making music for over thirty years and his wife has been acting as his manager for the bulk of those years. They met in the early days of Orange Juice, started out as friends, and eventually worked out they each were the person the other wanted to be with most of the time, so they just got together and from there, kept being together. Grace calls him selfish more than once in the film, and one gets the distinct feeling Maxwell is waiting for the day Collins will be willing to let it all go, so they can live their life more on an equal footing, rather than one devoted to Collins’ artistic pursuits. In the documentary William is filmed as Collins speaks about his youth, and considering William bares a striking resemblance to his father, one gets the sense of a child’s life dominated by his father. Collin’s story is plastered over the face of his son as the film carries an awareness that everything is about Edwyn Collins – even William and Grace. One can’t help wondering, if the tables were reversed, if Grace were in that coma, how much of Edwyn’s life would be put on hold to rehabilitate her.
The first fifteen minutes of The Possibilities are Endless are a well put together surrealist nightmare of the horrors of Collin’s earlier days in the coma. His voice is at its most halting and Maxwell’s occurs in small foggy sentences. Images fade and out of focus and the surface is regularly filmed from underneath water. As corny as this may sound, it works beautifully in depicting the horror and fear of Collin’s experience of a coma, and is a frightening piece of film making. It goes on, like the film, testing patience, making the viewer painfully aware of the real difficulties in this sort of rehabilitation. “There was no Eureka moment for me” says Collins. His recovery was painstaking, bit by bit, achieved very slowly and very frustratingly. As the film progresses, Collins ability to speak comes back and we even catch glimpses of who he used to be, although Grace admits in some pain at one point, that she misses her husband. This, close to another where she laughingly jokes to Collins that their days of physical intimacy are behind them, even as we painfully see they are both still young enough that this is a missed connection. “Before this, love was lust,” says Collins, “Now it is something so much deeper.”
Despite all this depth, the film never escapes into sentimentality, even if it does get a little arty self-indulgent, but that reflects on the subject, who is definitely self-indulgent about his passion to pursue his art, and yet lacking in sentimentality when it comes to the spirited banter between he and Maxwell that smacks of a small world the two of them understand that shuts everyone else out. Like his music, Collin’s is ruthlessly realist, so the film presents with lack of obfuscating passion, and that includes the inherent sense of importance of being the documentary subject. I happen to be a huge Edwyn Collins fan who adores his music, so for me this was a terrifying insight into the true cost of survival.