My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014)

Directors: Sophie Robinson & Lotje Sodderland

I’m a big fan of horror movies, to the point where watching them does not scare me in the least. This documentary, on the other hand, was really hard at times to watch, I found myself not being able to sit through it all in one go, and the viewing experience was rather uncomfortable. The reason for this is that this documentary does a phenomenal job at conveying the fragility of our body’s inner mechanisms, and it confronts the viewer with a part of human existence we do everything in our power to not really acknowledge, let alone take the time to understand or think about at length.

Lotje Sodderland was a healthy 34 year old woman living and working in London, when one night she suddenly felt like she was dying. Somehow she managed to stumble outside her flat into a hotel down the road. She found herself in the hotel’s restroom and collapsed and completely lost consciousness. Lotje had had a massive stroke due to a clot in her brain. The operation went well, but beyond that the doctors didn’t know what kind of damage had occurred in her brain and her abilities (motor, cognitive, etc.).

This fascinating and visually arresting documentary chronicles Lotje’s journey and attempts at recovery, along with providing an unprecedented look into our brain functions and what happens when something goes wrong. One really phenomenal directorial choice is to attempt to connect the viewer to the types of experiences Lotje has been dealing with, such as auditory distractions and the alternate viewing experience her brain treats her to, such as the almost oneiric colorful hallucinogenic worldview provided by her right eye.

Lotje’s main difficulties have been with speech and reading, and the film chronicles the arduous task of attempting to regain something that used to be so simple and taken for granted. We see Lotje knowing that there is a word she should know and simply unable to capture it and the ensuing frustration that arises. As a bilingual person I sometimes have this experience, I can see what it is I wish to say, but the word I am looking for doesn’t manifest. I cannot fathom what it must be like for this to happen with even the most elementary and basic concepts and words. Even the word ‘the’ poses a massive challenge for her.

I’m not the type of person to be prone to hypochondria, even so the film makes you somewhat question your health and makes you paranoid, afraid that something like this could happen to you, because it could and there is really no way to anticipate it nor avoid it. Just this year I and two good friends of mine were all diagnosed with different types of autoimmune diseases which appeared out of nowhere, were different degrees of debilitating, and were not preventable. The human body is miraculous when it works, terrifying when it doesn’t, and regardless of how much we think we know, always utterly mysterious and mystifying.

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