Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story [FILM REVIEW]

Posted on September 18, 2011 in Media

By Siddhartha Roy:

“It’s still hard to carry… alone. So, that’s why I have told you. That’s why I have told you my story. Now, I can lay that burden down, put it to rest and I can go on… Hi Mom!”

I wish people in India had more movies like ‘Iqbal’ to watch than ‘Bodyguard’. If more ‘true’ stories of grit and courage were told to audiences. To our youth. Maybe many more would realize the dormant potential within and not waste their lives. Maybe we would have more Kiran Bedis and A. P. J. Abdul Kalams. Maybe we would have more Liz Murrays.

I was first introduced to Liz Murray through a Values.com poster. It had the picture of a girl holding a Psychology textbook with ‘From Homeless to Harvard’ written on the side. Years later, I came across the movie and the book (titled ‘Breaking Night’ which I am dying to read on my Kindle).

‘Homeless to Harvard’ made me cry. It gave me goosebumps. A lot many of them. But, most importantly, it gave me something ‘real’ to put my faith on. Belief. No pretense. In a story told the way it really is – True. “When there was nothing to believe in, she believed in herself”.

Liz’s parents were drug addicts. Especially her mother, who had severe drug/alcohol problems & was a schizophrenic. She squandering every cent on drugs while the children (with elder sister Lisa) ate off dumpsters and witnessed their mother’s scary and recurrent schizophrenic/drug-induced fits. Liz was the ‘smelly’ kid in school. Always hungry and ridiculed, she turned into an introvert, rarely going to class and yet attaining good grades.

After her mother was diagnosed with AIDS, she was faced with a choice – living either with her father or in an assisted living home. After spending a few months in a terrible shelter home, she dropped out of school and ran away — sleeping on subway station benches, shoplifting for food/books and even begging on the streets. She was homeless at 15.

When her mother died, the jolt was unbearable. The funeral, with no priest, where her mother’s body in placed in a wooden box to be covered with mud by a crane is heart-wrenching. She lies on the wooden box-cum-coffin and simply cries.

Calling the incident a slap-on-her-face and faced with the reality that her mother would never coming back, she got into a public school and finished high school curricula load worth four years in two.

A school trip to Harvard is a defining moment when she decides to give a shot at gaining admission there. Washing dishes (the job she takes to pay her way) while studying with notes stuck on the wall, last-one-out-first-one-in in school, doing her homework in the subway trains and graduating with the highest scores – feats she accomplishes by the power of her spirit. A spirit daunted by her mother’s death, her father’s subsequent diagnosis of AIDS and a clouded future. And yet possess the perseverance to work as hard as she could and give life a chance.

Her determination and honesty gets her to win the prestigious ‘The New York Times’ scholarship worth $12,000/year and she does get into Harvard.

The Real Liz Murray

She’d give it back, all of it, IF she could have her family again. The family she once had — even if for so little a time when she was a kid. And, in spite of the tumultuous past, she doesn’t forget that she loved her mother. The yearning for their times together flooding the deep pools of her eyes.

A true story told through the eyes of Liz Murray herself – played by the inexplicably astounding Thora Birch – this movie deserves to be seen by every individual on earth. Thora Birch, who I first loved in the Oscar winning ‘American Beauty’, looks the part – every bit – and, in the stellar 91 minutes of ‘Homeless to Harvard’, brings Liz Murray’s real life to life on screen.

Go order the DVD right now.