Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist Movie Review

One of my best friends suffers from Cystic Fibrosis, so I looked to Sick with great interest.

Now Bob Flanagan is not your every-day-CF sufferer. At the time of his death at age 43, he was (and still remains, I think) the longest-lived survivor of the malady, which essentially clogs every organ in your body with mucus. In addition to disgestive problems, sufferers eventually drown when their lungs fill up with phlegm to the point of suffocation. Not a pretty sight.

How strange is it then that Flanagan's method of coping with the illness was subjecting himself to bondage, torture, and mutilation? In a perverse way, it makes sense, with Flanagan pushing his body to extremes as a way to deal with the constant pain of life. CF may be one form of agony, but hammering a nail through your penis is something else entirely different.

Yeah, you read that right. Toward the end of the film, we are treated to Flanagan's nailing his own willie to a board. (There's no blood until he takes the nail out.) Lest any of you think this is fake, it's not, as the video will prove over and over again: Bob hanging weights from his testicles, having various objects shoved up his nether regions by his master/wife Sheree, and various and painful-looking piercings. It's a strange and creepy dichotomy to the scenes with Bob in the hospital, which obviously distresses him much more.

The squeamish will not be amused, and when Bob's life finally gives out, it's one of the most gut-wrenching things you can watch. Considering that it comes about 10 minutes after the aforementioned hammering sequence, you'll be treated to back-to-back heartaches.

The problem with Sick is not its graphic or tragic nature, it's that Bob Flanagan seems a hard man to get to know. I'm interpreting his need to play slave myself, because director Kirby Dick never really gets at the core. He lets Bob talk about what he wants, which is often CF and his strange relationship with Sheree. Archival footage of his live torture shows and museum pieces (including one where he sequestered himself in a hospital bed in the museum and let viewers come look at him) speak for themselves. But Dick, considering he had months, maybe years, to work with Flanagan, never gets to the real core of the man, and that's a shame, because there's no way to get inside his mind now.

The new DVD release adds a few deleted scenes (introduced by Dick, who is oppresively long-winded) but is most notable for its update with a dramatically grown-up Sarah Doucette, via a 15-minute documentary about her, the progression of her illness, and her thoughts about Bob after his death.

Comments

Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 1997

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