'Stronger' With Jake Gyllenhaal is the Boston Marathon Bombing Film We Didn't Know We Needed

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, in "Stronger." Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

When two homemade bombs exploded near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, spewing ball bearings, shrapnel and nails into the bodies of more than 250 children and adults, photos streamed online in real time. Later, these horrifying images would memorialize the extraordinary acts of complete strangers, inspire the #BostonStrong movement and help lead authorities to the perpetrators.

Pretty much every bit information about the Boston Marathon bombings has been photographed and dissected, from the dramatic search for the suspects, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, to heartfelt profiles of the victims, survivors and doctors and nurses who helped save lives. As if we didn't fully grasp the enormity of the event, last year, Boston's other famous son, Mark Wahlberg (not Matt Damon), starred in Patriots Day, about the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers. Do we really need another film about the Boston Marathon bombing?

Turns out, we do.

Stronger tells the story of Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal). When a photo captured him as a man in a cowboy hat, wheeled into safety—bones and flesh hanging off what was left of his legs—he became the symbol of the terrorist attack. What director David Gordon Green and screenwriter John Pollono elucidate is not the crime nor the punishment, but what happens to a human being when he becomes famous for tragedy.

The film opens with a newscaster proclaiming, "It's gonna be a perfect day!" It's April 15, 2013, and Bauman, a 27-year-old Red Sox fanatic who works at Costco, kisses his mother goodbye, grabs a large homemade poster, and heads into Boston to meet his ex-girlfriend, Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black ), at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The camera follows Bauman as he moves through an alley in Back Bay, toward the frenzy of the race—it's the last time we'll see him walk on his own legs.

Based on Bauman's book of the same name (written with Bret Witter), Stronger is laced with all the requisite Boston tropes—the "Ya's," "Ma's" and "Fuckin' Ma's!" The film makes expedient use of real marathon footage, too, then moves on to the aftermath: Bauman's excruciating medical treatments and, after six weeks in the hospital, his return home to live with his mother, Patty (Miranda Richardson)—a woman who spends as much time booking TV interviews as she does schlepping her son to physical therapy. As he tries to recover in her handicap-inaccessible apartment, he turns to his buddies, loyal working class Massholes, and the guilt-ridden Hurley. Prior to the film, the two had broken up, and Bauman had gone to the race to watch her cross the finish line, an attempt to win her back.

Meanwhile, journalists swoop in like starving hawks. And Bauman—who is just trying to learn how to reach for the toilet paper without doing a faceplant—is accosted by strangers wanting to share their own bombing stories.

Gyllenhaal and Bauman attend a press conference to promote "Stronger" at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada September 9, 2017. Fred Thornhill/Reuters

The film and Gyllenhaal do a great job of conveying the consequences of being knighted the symbol of hope, of resistance, of "Boston Strong," and, more broadly, of how exhausting our own fascination with survivors can be on the survivors themselves.

Ultimately, Bauman comes to terms with his role as the people's hero and makes up with Hurley. For a couple that's had almost every major moment of their relationship since the marathon covered in the press— courtship, marriage and the birth of a daughter—the film is, in a way, a self-fulfilling prophecy: Earlier this year, Bauman and Hurley announced their divorce.