Weekly Review: My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014)

At the age of 34, Lotje Sodderland has a hemorrhagic stroke that changes her life. She loses her ability to read and write, struggles to find the words to speak, and has trouble perceiving the world around her. This documentary follows her journey, whether that be to full recovery or to acceptance of her current existence.

This documentary was produced in 2014, three years after Sodderland’s hemorrhage and surgery. It was picked up by Netflix and became available for instant streaming as a Netflix original on March 18, 2016.

Based off of the information that I’ve found regarding this documentary, it was funded by Kickstarter. I’m not sure whether that was partial or full funding. Due to Sodderland’s job at an advertising agency, she had been acquainted with David Lynch who eventually came to help produce the documentary. The director, Sophie Robinson, began filming some of the interviews with Sodderland only weeks after the hemorrhage. Lotje Sodderland was also a co-director for the documentary, ensuring realistic validity to some of the more simulated aspects.

I’m not usually a documentary person, but I was completely struck by the promotional look of this film. The imagery and typography used intrigued me so much that I watched the documentary solely because of it. This kind of imagery continues throughout the entire documentary, so I was not left disappointed.

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 7.44.04 PM

The imagery I’m talking about is sort of eclectic, and I think that’s a good way to describe both the documentary and Sodderland herself. My Beautiful Broken Brain follows the pattern of an inspirational documentary in its narrative structure, but there are several aspects that make it stand out. This comes through in the style of some of the interviews and also in the simulation of some of Sodderland’s experiences. It’s important to note that the filmmakers’ goal behind this documentary was not to create a film that was just about recovery, but also about having to rethink your life.

After having surgery on her parietal and temporal lobes to repair damage from the hemorrhage, Sodderland has trouble being able to read, write, and speak. She also has difficulty recognizing the world around her, sometimes seeing blasts of color and other times seeing distortions that she describes as scary. The documentary attempts to simulate these experiences for viewers who, for the most part, will never experience them. Since Sodderland co-directed, I would think that these simulations are decently accurate, and I’ve read several accounts from viewers who say they experienced similar perceptions.

The aspect of the documentary that I liked most was how personal it felt. A lot of the interviews included in the film are self-shot iPhone videos of Sodderland, speaking to herself to combat her own memory loss. These videos are very touching, very relatable. While they don’t add a lot of production value to the film, they do add an emotional connection that the viewer feels with the subject.

It’s a shorter film, sitting at a running time of 86 minutes. While it is short in length, there are many aspects of the film that make it seem longer, namely its emotional nature. I’ve seen responses from people where it took them several attempts to finish the film because it was emotionally draining. It can be difficult to see a grown woman lose her ability to communicate. It’s stressful to Sodderland as she goes through it, and this really comes through in the film.

I thought My Beautiful Broken Brain was a beautiful, touching film, and that its flaws made it seem more personal. If you’re a fan of documentaries, I’d definitely suggest checking it out, if only to look at how its formatted. In any case, it’s a compelling story, and I do suggest giving it a go.

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