Rupture: Living With My Broken Brain

Rupture: Living With My Broken Brain


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In 2007, actress Maryam D'Abo was exercising at a friend's house when an artery in her brain malfunctioned. She collapsed, dragged herself in search of help, and spent three days in agony with pounding headaches "like shotgun blasts", to the point where, when she was finally laid out on the operating table, she was ready to die. Considering the part of her brain that was damaged (not that there are really any good places for it to happen), it's extraordinary that she didn't. What's still more remarkable is that she has recovered to the point of being able to make a documentary about her experience and those of other survivors.

As a survivor of brain injury myself, I am in a similar position, and - as is inevitable when one watches a documentary on a subject with which one is personally familiar - I can't agree with all her observations here. But despite its tendency to generalise, this isn't trying to be a definitive account of such experiences. It's a very personal story. D'Abo's warmth and humour have clearly been key factors in her recovery and they help her develop a quick rapport with the people she meets. The diversity of these people is impressive, shattering the myth that the brain only goes wrong in old age. Many are now energetic and vital, something that will bring hope to the recently injured, but the film doesn't dodge the issue of what happens to those more severely disabled by their experience. It is acknowledged that "some find disability overwhelming" even if we don't see them; we see others who are working hard to recover what limited powers they can, such as a former account manager, still cognitively intact but faced with great difficulty communicating, who needs only his eyes to be able to express the thrill of regaining some movement in his hand.

The quality of the footage from some of these encounters isn't great, with sound problems in a few places, but in a curious way this adds to the atmosphere, giving them an additional sense of intimacy and mirroring the distorted sound and visuals used elsewhere to convey d'Abo's disorientation during the early stages of her recovery. Alongside the survivors, we meet assorted specialists and surgeons, with Susan Greenfield reminding us what a great communicator she can be when speaking on a topic she understands. The level of discussion is carefully pitched, neither aloof nor patronising, though it doesn't go into great depth; the focus here is really on personal journeys rather than science. Frustratingly, the film just skirts around the edge of family experiences. So many relationships are broken in the aftermath of events like these that it would have been good to hear more about those that survive and about the pressures faced by loved ones and carers. Director Hudson, d'Abo's husband, seems to struggle to express his own feelings beyond a few cautious words, despite eloquently exploring those of others from behind the camera.

There is also a sense here that in trying to tell a rounded story the film has ventured into territory where it doesn't have much to say. Talk of the ghost in the machine, of God, of the meaning of life, has little real substance or passion. In places it becomes repetitive. It is forgiveable because everyone here is clearly well intentioned; they invite patience, and viewers without that would probably struggle with the subject anyway. There are plenty of tragedies on show here but overall the message is one of hope, the film fiercely life-affirming. This subjective approach is ultimately more successful. D'Abo, more beautiful now than she ever was in her Bond girl days, makes a charismatic central figure, never boring because of the calm she has achieved. Her testimony, to an experience many of us will one day share but few will survive, is worth hearing.

Reviewed on: 10 Oct 2012
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Former Bond girl Maryam d'Abo talks about her experience of brain aneurysm and meets other survivors.

Director: Hugh Hudson

Starring: Maryam d'Abo, Nigel Havers, Susan Greenfield

Year: 2011

Runtime: 70 minutes

Country: UK


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