The Inheritance (2014) is a documentary that highlights the impacts of Huntington’s disease (HD) across several generations of a family. The disease personally affects New Zealander and film creator Bridget Lyon, who uses the film’s platform to explore her family history of Huntington’s disease.
Bridget first brings us back to 1814 when a woman named Margaret was born. She gave birth to seven children and was soon after committed to the Aberdeen Lunatic Asylum in the United Kingdom. The youngest child, James, moved to New Zealand and soon developed symptoms typical of Huntington’s disease. The disease continued to travel through the family, moving next to his son William, who then passed it on to Mavis and, finally, Bridget’s mother, Judy.
Once Bridget catches us up to the present, she explores the various damaging effects of the disease. She describes Huntington’s disease as the “worst known disease to man.” Bridget explains the perceptions of the disease within families, noting that her grandmother was often confused for an alcoholic. It wasn’t until Judy had three children did she learn, finally, what disease had afflicted the Bridget’s family for so many generations. Through scientific advancement and the availability of genetic testing, identifying and diagnosing Huntington’s disease became much easier.
While stigma is often a major problem in the HD community, Bridget noted that her parents were open about the disease. They were not limited by its presence, taking their children on many adventures throughout Bridget’s childhood.
The Inheritance does an excellent job exploring the science of the disease as well. Many prominent scientists and activists such as HDBuzz co-founder Dr. Ed Wild and South African scientific researcher Dr. Michael Hayden are featured in interviews. Bridget and these experts explain how the disease gene was located in 1993 near the top of chromosome 4. This discovery allowed individuals like Judy to get tested for the disease.
Furthermore, the film describes the impacts of HD on the brain, noting the deterioration of the basal ganglia. Researcher Anthony Hannah explains how the cerebral cortex is one of the most evolved parts of the brain and this region is one of the most impacted by HD. The Inheritance is thorough in its description of the effects Huntington’s disease has on the brain, using multiple scientific experts to explain the disease process in easy to understand terms.
Using her life story, the narrator Bridget describes what it is like to make life decisions regarding the disease. She discusses her own thought process regarding the decision to test. She even describes the very personal decision of attempting to have another child using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis via in vitro fertilization. This process allows a lab technician to test for embryos without the mutant huntingtin gene. Those embryos are then implanted in the womb. Bridget and her husband Jeff successfully have a child who will never have Huntington’s disease.
Bridget outlines the devastation the disease had on previous generations, but also the impacts it has on the current and future ones. Bridget has several siblings who are at risk for the disease. She uses the film to highlight various perspectives on genetic testing, highlighting her siblings diverse set of opinions. Each sibling has a different outlook on genetic testing and various methods on how they will cope with the disease, whether they have it or one of their siblings does.
Overall, The Inheritance is meticulous in its description of the Huntington’s disease experience. The information this film presents is well researched and verified by a variety of Huntington’s disease experts. Using her personal narrative, film creator Bridget Lyon accurately portrays the challenges and hopes of living in a Huntington’s disease family.