Directors: Julia Baylis & Sam Guest
Cast: Deanna Gibson
Category: Shorts Program
It’s only 14 minutes long, but Wiggle Room is a definitive film about physical disability because it isn’t really about physical disability. For the first minute of Wiggle Room, we see a teenaged Daisy (Deanna Gibson) wake up, leave her house and commute through the busy city. A series of tight close-ups and clever editing mean that we don’t really see much except her determined face. It’s only when Daisy reaches her destination – a space that is known to cripple the human spirit and make the healthiest of civilians feel disabled – that her wheelchair comes into view. Daisy is paralyzed from the waist down, but only once she enters the cramped lobby of her insurance agency does she truly feel crippled.
She isn’t alone. A desperate man is hurling abuses at a stubborn receptionist. His claim has been rejected, and he is sick of the apathetic procedure and red tape. An old lady awaits her turn, blissfully unaware of the chaos; one wonders if the lady was a young girl when she walked in. Daisy is a little afraid to approach the crabby receptionist: it doesn’t help that the woman’s hot coffee has spilled, and the phones are ringing off the hook. The atmosphere is hostile, but Daisy takes her chance anyway. At this point, it doesn’t really matter that she’s in a wheelchair. In a way, all of them are. In a way, none of them are. Ken Loach and his characters would attest to it. There is nothing more dehumanizing than experiencing a system rigged against you – faces hired by faceless institutions blindly follow dry rules and regulations that allow no room for spontaneity, empathy or individualism. People are paid to act like machines. Oddly enough, this is the hallmark of democracy: India, USA and Great Britain, three of the world’s biggest democracies, are testament to the procedural hell of freedom.
It’s smart of the makers to choose a shady insurance agency as the setting. Ironically, it’s a place that inadvertently mirrors the film’s endeavor to normalize a disabled protagonist. Beurocracy knows no discrimination: the employees are equally dismissive of every client, irrespective of colour, shape, gender and functionality. Daisy eventually wheels herself into the curt supervisor’s office, but she could have well walked, swum or sprinted in – the insurance folk offer little sympathy and not more than half a glance. Daisy doesn’t mind being treated like everyone else, but she minds being ill-treated. Her needs don’t distinguish her from the rest. But it’s a cruel joke that she is there to save the one thing that distinguishes her from the rest: a wheelchair ramp.
Hiring an actress who has seen both sides of the light is integral to Daisy’s dignified rage – in terms of not just representation but also narrative.
What happens in the office, of course, is the point of this bittersweet little film. There’s a fair bit of drama, but fortunately there is no grandstanding – the end resists a resolution, instead opting for a gesture that treads the thin line between revenge and humanity. It’s a lovely moment, turning the short film into a genuine, lived-in world where redemption is only as bright as the light of day. Hiring an actress who has seen both sides of the light is integral to Daisy’s dignified rage – in terms of not just representation but also narrative.
Deanna Gibson was 17 when a stray bullet at a house party turned her into a paraplegic. That she spent 17 of her 20 years with the hopes and dreams of a regular girl sort of defines Daisy’s behavior in the office. It means that Daisy’s refusal to leave is derived from her able desire rather than her disabled body; she is yet to totally adapt to a life of lesser control, of higher dependence. It also means that Daisy was once free, just like she was meant to be. Yet, she didn’t know freedom till it was taken away from her. And she didn’t fly till she stopped walking.