Documentaries are significant for two reasons– their authenticity and their real-life essence. My beautiful broken brain which is a Netflix original documentary is no different.
The documentary centres on a 34-year old woman whose life changed drastically in November 2011 when she suddenly suffered a stroke and had to battle some deficiencies in her reading, writing, and speaking abilities.
The story is that of Lotje Sodderland, a UK-based film producer who despite the suddenness of her illness, decided to share her experience with the world.
The morning she suffered the stroke, Lotje woke up feeling severe pains in her head. She managed to stumble to a hotel that was nearby and made it to the bathroom of the lobby where she was found unconscious. It was discovered that Lotje had suffered an intracerebral brain haemorrhage and was operated upon immediately.
Though they succeeded in removing the blood cloth, the damage had already been done, and the doctors could do very little to reverse the effects of the stroke. Lotje was later diagnosed with aphasia– a condition that is characterized by difficulty in reading, writing and speaking.
However, Lotje was not about to let aphasia limit her. Only eight days after the stroke, she contacted Sophia Robinson, a fellow filmmaker, and asked her to help document her post-stroke experience. And together, they made this marvellous film called my broken beautiful brain.
The film started with Lotje’s family and friends relaying the events surrounding the stroke, including the subsequent emergency surgery that she had to undergo. After this came Lotje’s recovery story. We saw her first endeavour to film herself using her phone, and her joy at the fact that she was still alive. She describes the incident as another dimension.
One that makes her feel euphoria and makes her see colours and hear sounds differently. As time went on, however, it was apparent how harrowing the experience was. The struggle she faced when trying to speak was so obvious, and it left us with a feeling of pity and empathy for her
For a woman who was once independent like Lotje Sodderland, losing her independence was of course not easy. However, she faced her ordeal bravely. She ultimately had to spend three months in Homerton’s neurological rehabilitation unit, undergoing rehabilitation, and learning to regain her speaking and reading abilities. Armed with determination and good humour, Lotje set out to deal with the demands of everyday life.
Lotje relayed some of the constant struggles that she had to face after the stroke. Her deficiency was not limited to dysphasia and aphasia alone. She also spoke about the memory deficits, confusion, visual deficiency, cognitive processing and sensory perception changes. She experienced over-sensitivity to noise, the feeling of overwhelming fatigue, frustration, and at times, doubts about the future because of the changes in her life.
Nevertheless, Lotje was lucky to have a family that was so supportive. In fact, the documentary recorded the invaluable support that was constantly showed to Lotje by her family. She was able to make a remarkable recovery through extensive speech therapy, occupational therapy, and lots of visits to her psychiatrist and psychologist. Her neuro-psychologist explained that in the brain, the pathway for reading differs slightly from that of writing.
As such, one does not need to see to write. However, there’s the need for visual connection for reading to take place. Therefore, a part of Lotje’s rehabilitation programme was to try to re-calibrate her brain hemispheres so she could write and read better.
Lotje had more than just a desire to live or to merely survive. She wanted to create her own narrative, tell her own story, fix memories and continue living. This led her to become part of research into transcranial stimulation at the University College London. Their techniques were aimed at accelerating language recovery. Lotje made it her duty to faithfully attend every session and also practise at home.
My beautiful broken brain is an engrossing tale of how communication is a vital part of personal Independence. Lotje points out that an independent life cannot be achieved when one is unable to communicate or tell one’s story. This is perhaps what motivated her to record and share her own story with the world.
Besides, the story also shows how our memories and personal narratives help us define our sense of self. Faced with the inability to remember things and a loss of the sense of time, Lotje has come to the realization of how truly important and significant memories are. As such, she made the film as a way of preserving her story, her memories and cherishing them.
Again, the film reveals how fragile and important the brain is and how little we know about it. When you think about the many complexities that Sodderland was faced with as a result of a problem with the brain and the physician’s fondness for the phrase “I don’t know”, It was evident that the brain still holds many mysteries that man is yet to solve.
Nevertheless, researchers are always on the lookout for more information about the brain. And though those that have suffered one form of brain damage or the other can be treated, they often return a different person.
Production and Release
My beautiful broken brain was initiated by Lotje Sodderland a few days after the stroke and was released in 2014. The documentary had its world premiere at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam that year and won the DOU C award. The film started being streamed by Netflix as a Netflix original on the 18th of March, 2016.
Before she enlisted the help of Sophia’s Robinson, a fellow documentary film producer, Lotje had started taking videos of herself in the hospital. As a matter of fact, the more significant part of the story was filmed by Lotje using an iPhone which belonged to herself. The videos were then edited and pieced together to form the story.
The fact that the story was recorded with a Phone made the story more intimate and portrayed the world from her own point of view. As she had also been experiencing hallucinations and visual misconceptions, the film too was edited to show all these while people watched. The film’s visual style is unique and thoroughly explains how things are seen in Lotje’s vision and head. Most importantly, the documentary had that element of authenticity and realness.
Despite all these, the production still had some problems. Though some visual effects were placed in the footage to enable viewers to see inside Lotje’s head, some of these effects were not so successful. Some worked perfectly, while others only seemed out of place or distracting. At some points, special effects were used unnecessarily.
There’s also the fact that viewers are left high and dry at certain points in the film. This became more emphasized at the ending. The ending does not provide satisfactory information. Though it was mentioned that she later got married, we were left wondering how she was fairing, and whether or not she was raising some kind of awareness outside the film.
Even with these few shortcomings, we can’t deny that the documentary is worth giving a thumbs up. Undoubtedly, my beautiful broken brain is an educative, informative and eye-opening film which should be watched by everyone. If you’ve never had a close rapport with someone who has experienced a stroke, this documentary is your opportunity to become conversant with the phenomenon. Even if you know a thing or two about the medical issue, the truth is that you’ll still learn something new by watching the film. This story of persistence, hope and bravery will surely inspire you.