As much as writers and film critics in particular like to pronounce upon storytelling and the experiences of others, some tales are so miraculous and awe-inspiring that any words will completely fail them. The expression ‘triumph over adversity’ is used altogether too frequently nowadays to describe all manner of things – such as a wannabe singer’s journey to stardom on a TV talent show – when it should be reserved for stories like the one told in Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story (2015).
The Northern Irishman, who from a young age suffered with extreme short-sightedness, was declared blind at the age of 22 at a time when the world was seemingly at his feet – soon to graduate from Trinity College and set for a career in the City of London. Undeterred by something as trivial as no longer being able to see, the adrenaline junkie and gifted athlete would go on to win two medals at the 2002 Commonwealth Rowing Championships and in 2009 was the first blind person to reach the South Pole. His exploits on the expedition were captured by filmmaker Ross Whittaker in Blind Man Walking (2010). Director and subject team up again in Unbreakable, which encompasses the entirety of Mark’s life.
From childhood in Holywood, County Down, to recent pioneering paralysis treatments in Hollywood, California, and a dozen other places in between, this truly inspirational, humbling and intimate documentary follows Mark and fiancée Simone George through more trials and tribulations than anyone should suffer in a lifetime. In July 2010, a matter of weeks before the couple were due to be married, Mark was at the Henley Regatta with friends when a fall from a bedroom window broke his back and caused severe cranial damage, resulting in paralysis. Unbreakable takes an unerring look at his brutal injuries, recovery and rehabilitation but also how from this near death experience has come a new purpose in life.
The couple are now advocates for research and promotion of combining physical exercise, robotics and scientific knowledge to better the chances of individuals with severe spinal cord injuries being able to walk again. Mark, if you will, is patient zero. The doc treads lightly around some of the more difficult issues at hand – and the circumstances of the fall itself are swept under the carpet completely – but mention is made of how some people don’t understand why Simone has stuck by Mark and how he has offered her a way out should she want it, the limitations of bodily function and the possibility of children. However, Unbreakable makes it very clear that theirs is a case of love conquering all.
Unprepared to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, Mark says that he wants to “be on an equal footing” with those around him. Although the words are tinged with painful irony, his bravery and undying will to overcome whatever obstacles are put in his way are breathtaking. Whittaker’s voice is entirely absent from proceedings; rather than posing questions he merely allows Mark’s words and actions to speak for themselves. Pollock, who tours the world as a speaker to rapt audiences everywhere, is all smiles and charm throughout and will stand as a real bastion of hope for anyone going through hard times. He is living proof of what the human spirit is capable of and is an example to us all.