Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Film Review: The Man Whose Mind Exploded (2014)

The Man Whose Mind Exploded poster

What would you do if you had no short-term memory? 

How would you remember what you had to do with your day or where you had just been, or the relationship with the person who has come to visit you?  How could you stay in touch with your own personality?  All of these questions are raised in the touching documentary from director Toby Amies, The Man Whose Mind Exploded.

The eponymous hero with the ‘exploded’ mind is Tony Banwell, aka Drako Zarharzar, a 76-year-old Brighton man that developed acute anterograde amnesia from a number of car accidents and comas that prohibits him from creating any new memories.  This means that he can tell stories from his past and laugh and joke about his immediate surroundings, but cannot remember anything after a short while and has to live totally “in the now”.

The way that Drako combats his condition is to fill his flat with thousands of messages (to himself) and pictures that remind him of his life and interests.  It looks as if his mind has exploded out into his surroundings and is left hanging from the ceiling and walls – he seems to have externalised himself in order to remember it.  Amusingly, a lot of the pictures and messages that surrounded him are naked men, erections and ‘non-realised fantasies’ about nipples and whips.

Amies became aware of Drako as a kind of local heritage character in Brighton.  Before his accidents, Drako had an extraordinary life working with Salvador Dali and Derek Jarman and has since amassed a conspicuous number of tattoos, facial piercings and even a Dali-esque moustache painted on every morning. 

This led Amies to learn more about his condition and decde to make a film about him to celebrate his life and philosophy and document his condition.  Although it quickly becomes clear that Drako need a lot of looking after, and soon Aimes becomes not just a friend and a filmmaker but also a carer.  Drako’s stubbornness and forgetful nature soon become a danger to his health and Aimes’ camera (and therefore the positioned audience) begin to get increasingly involved in his health and wellbeing.

During watching the film I began to feel uncomfortable that there was an ethical elephant in the room concerning making a film about a man who could not remember giving his consent.  But Amies address this point to Drako on camera and his memorable reply alleviates all fears.

Drako has lost all of his friends and a lot of his mind, but is kept positive through a simple mantra of Trust, Absolute, Unconditional that he has tattooed on his arm.  To Drako, this refers to his faith in a god that is looking after him, but Aimes starts to wonder whether it is more of a sanity protection strategy to combat the fear of not knowing who or where he is most of his life.

Drako is an unlikely hero and, due to his condition, a charmingly unreliable narrator, but he occasionally utters profound asides that reflect the perplexing nature of time and memories. When asked if he misses his sister, he simply contentedly replies “I don’t know what it means to miss something”, which is extraordinary if you think about it...

The Man Whose Mind Exploded makes you grateful for the simple act of memory, a bewildering phenomenon that science hasn’t quite figured out yet, and an aspect of humanity that is overlooked until it disappears.  Ironically the film is probably going to stick in my mind for longer than most…

The Man Whose Mind Exploded is now available on iTunes

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