What an amazing human is the former congresswoman from Arizona, who was shot in the head in 2011 and not only survived but has continued to serve the public. Though Gabby Giffords retired from the House after her near-fatal shooting by an angry and mentally unstable constituent, she somehow still maintains her smile, her poise, her good humor even when it would be more than understandable for her to have lost any of these.
Filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West have spliced together new interviews with footage that Giffords’s husband, the astronaut Mark Kelly, took at her bedside in those tentative days that followed the attempt on her life (to say nothing of the deaths of several of her staff, as well as innocent bystanders). Barely recognizable with her head shaved and bandages across her face, Giffords at first fights for her life, before somehow beating the odds and waking up. At that point her mobility is all but gone, and what speech she has is stunted (while working with a pathologist, she frequently repeats the word “chicken” to almost any question). Giffords (“I’m ‘gabby,’ after all,” the formerly loquacious woman says) does her best, but understandably breaks down when she can’t get her words out. Kelly, her husband, is ever by her side except for a mission to outer space aboard the shuttle.
As we know now, Giffords has made a recovery. Though she can no longer walk or speak as she used to do–a phenomenon known as aphasia–she nonetheless continues to press for gun reform measures. As she says several times in the documentary, she is not anti-gun (even after her injuries, she is seen firing a handgun one-handed with admirable control) but presses for something to be done. That something has not been done, and that we have only seen more mass shootings almost daily, is not only an indictment of the extreme gun lobby and its congressional allies but also of this country’s seemingly loving the culture of death far more than life (save your hate mail–I’m a gun owner.)
Plenty of talking heads, including Barack Obama, testify to Giffords’s grace, fortitude, humility, strength and humor. Though she left Congress, out of necessity, her fight continues. In an extraordinary turn her husband Kelly won John McCain’s old Senate seat in 2020, allowing the couple to continue working for change both inside and outside the system.
But more than anything, “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down” is an extraordinary love story between two amazing people. Though their couplehood can never be quite what it once was, Kelly is a living testament to the proviso “in sickness and in health,” and Giffords is a study in durability and perseverance. She won’t back down–because she doesn’t know how.
Now in select movie theaters