It would be next to impossible for anyone with even half a soul to sit through a movie such as “Bowen’s Heart” and not get goose bumps or maybe shed a tear or two. Overcoming adversity while providing inspiration to others is a winning combination for any human-interest movie, but when it’s a documentary about an infant child born with a deformed heart, the chances of making a film that couldn’t get under the audience’s skin, at least a little, are virtually non-existent.
Before being born in 2010 in Nashville, Bowen Hammit was diagnosed in utero with HLHS (hypoplastic left heart syndrome), a disease which effects every one in 3,841 U.S. births or around 1,025 per year. The mortality rate is high with only one in five surviving beyond the age of 18.
In layman’s terms, HLHS occurs when someone is born with only half of a heart and a single ventricle. The disease can be mitigated, but that requires three or more highly invasive surgeries spread out over a decade or more, and even then, success is far from guaranteed. It isn’t uncommon for patients to undergo transplant surgery further on down the road when they become fully grown.
Bowen, the third of four children born to Sarah and Matt Hammit, underwent two surgeries before he was 8 years old, and for his entire life he has depended on various assisted breathing machines. This understandably, prevents him from normal physical activities and, on some occasions, mere walking. However, what Bowen might lack in stamina and endurance is more than made up for with his positive outlook, an infectious love of life and dogged determination to vanquish his ailment. He is the human embodiment of “The Little Engine That Could.”
Technical Challenges and Achievements
From a technical standpoint, first-time husband and wife feature producers and directors Lexi and Zach Read deserve high marks for their employment of unorthodox camera placements and the type of shooting angles rarely seen in documentaries. The visuals are outstanding, even when their higher-end more recent imaging is placed alongside home movies of Bowen as a newborn and a toddler.
The Reads also take chances when they infrequently shift the focus away from Bowen and place it on his siblings Claire, Emmy, and Lewis. While it is clear the other Hammit children are deeply concerned with Bowen’s condition and all love him unconditionally, they’re understandably at a loss when requested to provide deep insight and commentary on his plight. These are teen, preteen, and toddler age children whose understanding of life and death are far from fully formed, and putting them on the spot probably wasn’t a good idea.
Conversely, the passages including just Matt and Sarah, who must weigh the pros and cons of Bowen’s upcoming surgery, speaks volumes. Their family doctor Jeff Zampi pulls no punches when presenting them with options which equate to multiple variations of not bad, worse, and more worse. Bowen’s parents delayed his third surgery as long as they could (in the hopes of giving him and them more choices), but when it is made clear their possibilities are dwindling, they must make life and death decisions no parent would ever wish to contemplate.
While it is abundantly clear that the filmmakers have the technical aspects nailed down (Zach also serves as the movie’s director of photography, editor, and “colorist”), they fall short in the categories of narrative pacing and concise storytelling. This is understandable as the bulk of their previous projects have been short films and ad spots. Even with a scant running time of just over 90 minutes the movie feels longer and often drags.
Other Stories to Consider
Epoch Times readers who follow Christian Contemporary music are probably already familiar with Matt Hammit, the former lead singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter in the band Sanctus Real. Since departing the group, Matt released the 2011 solo album “Every Falling Tear” and co-wrote (with Jason Ingram) the 2012 children’s book “I Couldn’t Love You More.” He credits Bowen as providing the influence for both works, and also composed the film’s original score.
In one of the movie’s most heartwarming moments, Matt and Bowen collaborate on a new song (“Safe Right Here”), which the latter sings with the family providing back-up vocals at a roller rink.
Considering the relatively high number of U.S. children born with HLHS each year, the Reads would have served themselves and potentially interested viewers by including the stories of other individuals in the same boat and their families with different backgrounds, ethnicities, and quality of life standards. This is one instance where considering diversity would have been favorable.
Despite its shortcomings and narrow-ish inclusiveness, “Bowen’s Heart” isn’t too intense for family viewing and is something all parents of physically challenged children should consider watching. If for no other reason, it shows that prayer, family unity, and positive thinking go far in facing devastating adversity on such a grand scale.
Directors: Lexi Read, Zach Read
Running Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Release Date: July 14, 2022
Rating: 3.5 out of 5