Film review / spinal-cord injury

The Intouchables: film review

**POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT** (although the film itself gives away its end in the beginning, concerning itself with character over suspense)

First, a little pedantry; the term “Intouchables” is not a spelling error but the French equivalent of “Untouchables” [and yes, it is a foreign subtitled movie given limited distribution in Australia]. In the context of this film the title seems to intend a double meaning. The lead character, Philippe, is a C3/4 quadriplegic with no movement from the neck down and, consequently, no capacity to reach out and touch. More importantly, both Philippe and his carer Driss are outcasts; the latter a poor black, paroled (and despised) migrant, the former a pitiable paralytic – each in their own way untouchable.

The plot is a simple one. The wealthy Philippe hires Driss as a personal carer, notwithstanding the fact that he is patently unsuited to the task. To say nothing of his criminal background, he has no training or experience in the field and, as soon becomes obvious, his knowledge of spinal-cord injury (SCI) is laughingly basic [Is there really anyone in the world who does not know that paralytics normally have no/little feeling? That notwithstanding the absence of pain it is a bad idea to pour scalding hot tea onto a persons’ legs?]. He is hired on the sole basis that, from the very beginning, he responds to Philippe without pity, even without compassion. He jokes, teases, challenges and questions Philippe in a refreshingly unselfconscious way, no topic out of bounds (even quadriplegic erotica).

At one level, Intouchables follows a predictable and stereotyped pattern; wealthy white man is brought together with poor black man, cultures clash, white man introduces high culture to unsophisticated black man, black man introduces funky dance and lawless joy to stuck up white man, both transformed. As is typical, it also ignores the obscenity of the white man’s wealth in the face of the black man’s poverty (and, as I’ve noted elsewhere, without owning up to the fact that disability and poverty often go hand in hand).

And yet, at another level – and this is what counts – the film is sheer delight. What it has going for it is a number of rich characters, as well as insight into the unique world of quadriplegia from the perspective of both the person with an SCI and his carers. Obviously, the story resonates with the experiences of my wife and I, leaving us grateful that my injury was not as severe as that suffered by Philippe (there is almost always someone worse off than yourself!). But if the response of other patrons in the cinema was anything to go by, its appeal is universal and its story inspirational. And as much as I hate that overused word, the film’s encouragement comes not from the heroic character of either Philippe or Driss, but from the affirmation that friendship is what really matters in life.

Four stars.

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on


  • Samuel
    November 2, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Love the ending of the story that I confess to not focusing enough in the everyday life that we live. The key is probably to enjoy the simple everyday life with people who can relate or is in the same situation, and be vulnerable. Easier said than done. Conscious reminder needed. Thanks for the reminder again.

  • Heidi
    November 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Saw this film Friday night. Lots of happy / sad times co-existing together on the screen which I think made it a particularly beautiful film. Recommend!


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