Reeve’s Children Share Intimate Stories While Grappling With Iconic Film Role
The world premiere of the new documentary “Superman: The Christopher Reeve Story” earned a lengthy standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend, as the film provides an intimate look into the complex life and legacy of the iconic “Superman” star.
Directed by Chris Cowan and Jim Liberman, the film features extensive interviews with Reeve’s children, Matthew, Alexandra, and Will, who share personal insights into their father’s life before and after his horseriding accident in 1995 that left him paralyzed. While openly grappling with his enduring cultural status as Superman, the documentary explores the lesser-known aspects of Reeve’s life from his passions beyond acting to the devastating struggle following his injury.
Children Weigh Complicated Feelings on Father’s Paralysis and “Superman” Role
In a variety of interviews this week, Reeve’s three children reflected on watching their father go from an active, athletic star to quadriplegia nearly overnight. “It was extremely difficult as kids to watch that transition and have absolutely no control over helping him,” Matthew Reeve told Variety.
The children describe feeling isolated as their father’s mobility and independence were stripped away. “We weren’t really allowed to have friends over because there was so much medical equipment,” Alexandra Reeve explained.
At the same time, the world still viewed Christopher Reeve as “Superman,” unable to let go of that iconic fiction in the face of such human struggle. “As young kids, we wanted our dad, but the world wanted Superman,” Will Reeve said, calling it “confusing” to reconcile at the time.
New Documentary Captures Reeve’s Battle with Depression and Thoughts of Suicide
While displaying his public optimism and efforts to walk again, Reeve privately fell into severe depression in his later years post-injury, according to the documentary. Alexandra Reeve admitted it was very difficult to watch the film’s segments exploring her father’s suicidal thoughts.
“I mean, I lived it and I still couldn’t…It’s brutal,” she told Variety. “At one point he felt his mind was intact but it didn’t matter because his body was shot. It was just too painful. It was really hard,” Matthew Reeve added about his father’s struggle with depression.
The film aims to fully capture Reeve’s state of mind in his final decade while acknowledging the complexity of his enduring situation.
Daughter Felt “Rage” Over Learning of CGI “Superman” Cameo
After receiving an extended ovation at Sundance this weekend, the Reeve children also addressed their feelings over Warner Bros.’ use of CGI to include their late father in a cameo as Superman in the upcoming film “The Flash.”
Neither the studio nor the production reached out for permission regarding Christopher Reeve’s inclusion as the iconic character 15 years after his death. Alexandra Reeve admitted she felt “rage” after learning about it.
“We can’t do anything about it. We can’t take it out. We have no claim to it,” she said. “I do think it’s cheap.” Matthew and Will echoed the sentiment that they wished the studio had communicated about using CGI scans of their dad. The children have not even viewed the film yet.
Many fans have also criticized the video recreation of Reeve as exploitation and an unnecessary centering of the classic Superman image over the actor’s actual life and preferences.
Reeve’s Passions Beyond Superman Revealed
While the film promises plenty of behind-the-scenes footage from the original “Superman” movie that turned Reeve into an overnight celebrity, it also aims to capture his pursuits beyond that pop culture phenomenon and how he wished to be remembered.
From his tireless work on behalf of those with spinal cord injuries, to directing theatrical productions, to his passion for sailing, the documentary spends significant time on the lesser-known aspects of Reeve’s personality and life before and after his paralysis.
“Yes, he played Superman, but there’s a reason the movie’s called Superman — because he himself was super just for how he lived,” Jim Liberman, co-director, told Deadline.
Table: Christopher Reeve’s Life Passions Beyond Acting
|Spinal Cord Injury Advocacy
|After his 1995 accident left him quadriplegic, Reeve became a tireless advocate for spinal cord research and improving quality of life for paralysis patients. He co-founded a prominent research foundation and lobbied Congress.
|Even after his injury, Reeve continued his lifelong passion for sailing and raced competitively on specially designed boats he could control with his breath.
|Reeve co-founded LA’s Theater East in 1997 for Hollywood artists to create projects free from commercial pressure. He later directed theatrical productions from his wheelchair.
|Writing & Poetry
|Reeve wrote his memoir “Still Me” highlighting his life pre- and post-injury as well as several books of poetry reflecting on love, nature, paralysis and depression.
|A long-time environmentalist, Reeve served on the board of the Natural Resources Defense Council and advocated for causes like Patagonia forest protection and green architecture.
|Reeve had musical talent from a young age, played piano, clarinet, guitar, and harmonica. He showcased his singing in theater performances.
Documentary Receives Praise as “Complicated and Powerful”
The Reeve documentary has garnered widespread acclaim from critics as a powerful profile showcasing both the heights of fame as Superman along with the very human limitations Reeve faced after tragedy struck.
Variety notes that rather than framing Reeve as “frozen in time” as the iconic Superman, the documentary captures his full life from athleticism to paralysis to activism and beyond:
“It was about showing the full breadth of his life, that he did have such an extraordinary life before he became kind of frozen in time in the minds of so many millions of people across the globe,” co-director Chris Cowan said.
Audiences should prepare for an emotional journey revealing sides of Reeve’s life long hidden in the shadow of Superman’s cape.
Reeve Documentary Heads to HBO Later This Year
While the Reeve family’s reaction suggests they will limit promotion of the CGI cameo in The Flash, audiences will still be able to appreciate the real Christopher Reeve’s story in-depth later this year as “Superman: The Christopher Reeve Story” has already been acquired by HBO Documentary Films.
The deal ensures that Reeve’s definitive life documentary will reach a major audience when it debuts on HBO and streaming platforms. Given the buzz and accolades coming out of Sundance, the project is primed to enlighten the world on the complex man underneath the Superman headlines.
For the real-life Clark Kent who endured such soaring highs and tragic lows with ripple effects still unfolding, the greatest superpower may have been simply persevering each day despite extreme suffering and limitations – both physically and in how the public perceived him for decades. Reeve’s passions, advocacy and little-known talents could finally earn more widespread appreciation.
Just as his no-holds-barred documentary aims to reveal, Christopher Reeve proved himself super not because of cinema’s cape and tights, but through proudly showcasing his humanity against impossible odds.
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