Chained For Life

Film history is replete with movies like Freaks and The Elephant Man which attempt to get inside the heads of deformed characters. Chained For Life similarly works that territory, this time as a film-within-a-film. Whereas many of the previous efforts in this genre cast the deformed characters as objects of pity, this time the film is made by and stars disfigured people.

Stephen Plunkett and Adam Pearson in a scene from Chained for Life, courtesy Kino Lorber

Director and screenwriter Aaron Schimberg first entered our awareness in 2014 with his first feature-length film Go Down Death, a battle strewn story based on Jonathan Mallory Sinus’s folktales. That film garnered kudos at the Fantasia Film Festival, the Raindance Festival and the Northside Film Festival. Here in his second film Chained For Life, Schimberg draws on his own facial disfigurement (cleft palate) to explore the interactions experienced between non-disfigured and disfigured people. The film has already received strong notices at a variety of film festivals.

Playing other actors are Jess (“Mabel”) Weixler and Adam (“Rosenthal”) Pearson, each of whom are able to stretch admirably. Mabel struggles to connect with her castmembers, many of which suffer disfigurements (hermaphrodite, Siamese twins, bearded lady). Weixler is also an executive producer of the film.

The film works best when Mabel’s confusion and discomfort inevitably mirrors our own. The uncertainty of what to say and how to interact is rather universal, no matter how sensitive we think of ourselves.

Jess Weixler and Adam Pearson in a scene from Chained for Life, courtesy Kino Lorber

Schimberg’s style glances at some logical touchpoints (David Lynch and Werner Herzog), but he is able to forge his own path. The vast majority of the film takes place in a single location (a well-aged hospital), and it is well-shot by director of photography Adam J. Minnick. C. Spencer Yeh’s gentle score underpins many tender scenes.





Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.