The Electric Mind

The Electric Mind


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

The Electric Mind is a brief but effective primer in the current state of the art in treating neurological disorders. We follow four patients, each with their own life-affecting illnesses, and the medical professionals on the cutting edge.

The film opens with a brief visual essay on the physical structure of the 10 million interconnected nerve cells and transmitters, called neurons and synapses - “an electrical orchestra” - that comprise everything we are. From memory and emotion to rationality and thought.

“Men ought to know that from nothing else but from the brain come joys, delights, laughter and sports, and sorrows, griefs, despondency, and lamentations.” - Hippocrates

The most interesting patient is a former photojournalist, cut down in his Thirties by bipolar disorder. How does it feel for him? “The imagination stops working. Thinking is the most painful part of living.” He signs up for an experimental treatment called Deep TMS - a way of moderating and stimulating the brain's electrical pathways using focused magnetic fields.

This contrasts with Mila, a deeply depressed old woman who lost her husband recently - an Auschwitz survivor. The first time we see her, she's a walking ghost in a nightie in a dingy mental hospital. “I am alone with my soul.” “I can’t love”. Her treatment is Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) - remarkably similar to that used on Jack Nicholson's character in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. It's described as "total chaos" in the brain.

The film mixes testimony from surgeons, neurological scientists, patients and computer graphics to draw a complex, interesting layman study of the human mind as a physical entity. It takes time to detail the limitations of the scientific method in experimenting with brain activity.

They go from trial and error to complex regimented computer models of human brain activity as detailed by the Blue Brain project. In it, brain activity on an individual neuron level is simulated by parallel computation machines. This aids the scientific method considerably, as opposed to "poking it with a stick". It allows researchers and doctors to determine how best to focus treatment research. Even so, the researchers are frustrated by the absence of objective binary tests to convey success or failure. They compensate by using rigor in their models and experiments.

Having seen remarkable recoveries with the film's patients, I'm equally interested in the failures. Where are the patients with less success? Why did these experiments fail? Without failures, success means far less. At 60 minutes, The Electric Mind is perhaps too short, paying only lip service to philosophical and spiritual arguments. Even so, it's rarely anything less than fascinating.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2011
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An insight into contemporary neuroscience and its applications in treating psychological disorders.
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Director: Nadav Harel

Year: 2010

Runtime: 60 minutes

Country: Israel


EIFF 2011

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