"[My brother] Marc would have given anything to be the man I'd have given anything not to be," says Kimberly Reed, director and narrator of the autobiographical documentary Prodigal Sons.  "We were both haunted by the same ghost."

[caption id="attachment_29676" align="aligncenter" width="456" caption="Marc McKerrow and Kimberly Reed (formerly Paul McKerrow)"][/caption]

Two years after telling her family about her male-to-female transition, Reed has returned to her hometown of Helena, Montana, intending to make a documentary about showing up at her high school reunion—no longer the star quarterback she was 20 years earlier, but a poised, pretty, lesbian filmmaker.

[caption id="attachment_29675" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="Marc McKerrow"][/caption]

Rather surprisingly, Reed's transition is NBD.  Instead, the film's focus shifts to her strange older brother Marc, adopted before Reed was born because her parents thought they were infertile.

At first, Marc just seems socially awkward, but as the film progresses, he spirals into violent mental instability, attacking his siblings and hating himself.  Fueled by deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and years of living in his younger brother's shadow, Marc's resentment toward Kim becomes increasingly heartbreaking as she reaches out again and again.

Reed spins a compelling tale of parallels between her brother's situation and her own—between the identity crisis of an adopted child and the identity crisis of a woman in a man's body, between feeling betrayed by your body and feeling betrayed by your mind, between someone obsessed with forgetting the past and someone obsessed with reliving it.  Marc's insanity normalizes everything else, so that by the end of the film it's easy to forget Kim's transition ever happened.

Prodigal Sons starts out as a movie about gender and identity, but ends up a gut punch doc on mental illness and what it can do to a person and a family.  It's hard to watch at times, but it's worth it—especially once you learn which Hollywood titans are Marc's biological grandparents.

Prodigal Sons plays at SIFF Cinema March 5, 6, 7, 10, and 11 at 7:30pm, with 2pm matinees on the 6th and 7th.
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