On August 5, 2002, my little sister, Mary Pat, died from a brain aneurysm. A few short months before, she had decided to attempt a bone marrow transplant as a possible cure for aplastic anemia, which she had valiantly battled for years. After all the family and friends were tested as donors, it turned out that I was MP’s only possible choice.
When my sister passed, I looked at the other mourners. They all felt the pain of loss and the sorrow of a life ended so young. But, I felt something different. I felt anger. Anger at life. Anger at myself. Anger at God. How could He have presented me the possibility of saving my sister — but then take it away without cause or reason. It seemed like a cruel joke. My heart hardened. I lost faith.
This was how I first came to COTTON. I was in pain. I needed to exorcise some demons. I needed to explore the outrageous capriciousness and blindness of whatever power created us — and try to figure out WHY?!
Given where I was at, telling a story about a faith healer who has the opportunity to heal his sister wasn’t too big a leap. But, this was no ordinary faith healer (if there is such a thing). Cotton was broken. Lost. Overwhelmed by his “miraculous” gifts — even resentful. He was trapped by the anger of the past — and the fear of the future.
He was stuck, just like me. And, I needed him to figure a way out. Or, more accurately, we needed to figure it out together.
As we moved into production and beyond, I was amazed at what we learned together. In many ways, COTTON has been a journey of self discovery and uncovering the blind spots in the creative process. Themes and connections I had no idea were in the script suddenly burst to life while shooting a scene — or in the editing process. Things like the pain and alienation I felt growing up gay in an Irish Catholic family in the suburbs of Chicago. About how many LGBT men and women are left to seek love and understanding outside their biological families and create new families of their own. Or, how strongly the difficulty in escaping your past would echo my own struggles with addiction.
Of course, I can’t say if these ideas will resonate with every audience member in the same way. On its surface, COTTON is a film about a reluctant faith healer who finds the courage to make a new life for himself. But, underneath that, there are themes of faith and family — about finding the strength to make it through life’s difficult transitions – and learning to appreciate the little miracles in our everyday lives.
And, I hope, that is something that everyone who sees the film can take home with them.