In 2005, Scottish singer-songwriter Edwyn Collins suffered a double cerebral haemorrhage. Collins was placed on a lengthy rehabilitation programme, with the illness leaving him with difficulty walking and with severe speech difficulties. In the early stages of recovery, Collins was only capable of repeating four phrases, ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Grace Maxwell’ – his wife’s name – and ‘the possibilities are endless’. That final phrase gives Edward Lovelace and James Hall’s film its title, a fitting moniker for an emotionally grounded, extremely moving and strikingly experimental documentation of Collins’ recovery period following his illness.
The film opens with stock footage of the former Orange Juice frontman at his commercial peak in 1994, performing his now trademark track, ‘A Girl Like You’ on the Conan O’Brien show. A brief snippet of the Conan interview showcases Collins’ biting wit and down to earth sensibility, before the film disarmingly plunges us into the immediate aftermath of the singer’s double haemmorhage. The film’s opening act largely consists of striking landscape photography, visual vignettes that inventively reflect the debilitating power of this traumatic life event. A sailor trawls the Scottish bay, a young Edwyn cliff-dives into the sea below, all the while accompanied by elliptical and infrequent voice-over from Maxwell and Collins. These all coalesce to obliquely recreate the sense of uncertainty and powerlessness in the face of serious illness. It’s a daring and challenging approach to its subject, yet one that’s undoubtedly successful in its attempt to convey the emotional effects of Collins’ illness, sidestepping the anticipated documentary tropes and creating a singular experience.
It’s nearing the thirty-minute mark by the time we first glimpse Collins himself, as the story gently hones in on his and Maxwell’s relationship, which reveals itself to be the story’s beating heart. Their early encounters are recreated with their son William playing his father in his formative years, with Submarine‘s Yasmin Paige as Maxwell. The film becomes a patchwork of these reconstructions, Collins’ home movies and performance footage, as we track the singer’s gradual recovery process. The Possibilities Are Endless works especially well due to the relatability of its subjects, with Collins’ musical talents framed in the grand scheme of creativity itself, a force that along with his wife’s support, allows Collins to regain his sense of self. Beginning by drawing the same self-portrait every day for weeks, Collins gradually begins remembering his songs, bursting into song at unexpected intervals. This builds towards his return to performing, conveyed in a beautifully unsentimental fashion, yet all the more moving for it.
While the filmmakers opt to shy away from the specifics of Collins’ therapy and treatment, the trauma and tragedy of the event is palpable. Maxwell admits that she does miss the way her husband used to be, that ‘there’s no point denying it’. Their relationship is beautifully sketched here, a portrait of a healthy and contented marriage that is built to survive even the roughest waters and rendered in a realistic fashion, sly digs and all. It’s a portrait that never dips into melodrama and, despite the films numerous stylistic tics, is at its most touching when simply presenting Collins and Maxwell at ease with one another, particularly in the film’s final, beautifully photographed conclusion.
The Possibilities Are Endless is wondrous in this sense, an emotionally involving and candid look at a brilliant mind thrown into disarray, whilst adopting an experimental, lyrical visual style that makes it one of the most cinematic documentary experiences in recent memory. This is aided to no end by the fusion of Richard Stewart’s beautiful cinematography with Collins’ original score. One of the most singularly engaging films of 2014.