Any movie, every weekend: A father and son find light in the dark

Maclean's video: Despite a ‘vegetative’ diagnosis, new science suggests Jeff Tremblay’s brain is awake.

Every weekend for over a decade, Paul Tremblay has taken his son Jeff, 35, to the movies. At the cinema in Lloydminster, Alta., they’ll see comedies, action movies, thrillers; sometimes they’ll go to an animated film, maybe the latest from Pixar, with Jeff’s brother Jason, Jason’s wife, and their two young sons.

“Jeff likes comedies,” Tremblay says, “almost any kind.”

All this time, Tremblay’s been operating partly on faith. While he’s convinced that Jeff occasionally responds to what’s happening up on the screen—“He’s got a real belly laugh,” he says—he can’t be sure how much his son actually takes in. When Jeff was 18, he suffered a devastating brain injury after an assault: A kick to the chest sent him into cardiac arrest, temporarily depriving his brain of oxygen. Since then, Jeff’s been unable to speak, move purposefully, or follow basic commands and cues; he requires round-the-clock care. Even so, week after week, Jeff’s dad keeps taking him to the movies.

Kate Lunau chronicles the family’s story in the wake of remarkable new science from Adrian Owen, a British neuroscientist based at Western University in London, Ont.:

Related reading: Light in the dark: What if vegetative patients are actually conscious?