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This documentary film explores the interdisciplinary quest to understand the mind--its relationship to the brain, to the soul, to consciousness and sentience, and to the societal implications of free will. The film begins with the crisscrossing flow of people in a train station and an overvoice expressing the existential questions of "who are we?" and, ultimately, "who am I?"
This compelling image, filmed in black and white, serves as a representation of people as humanity and as individuals, as well as a metaphor for flow, such as of time or of impulses along a neural network. Hence, already in the introduction, the viewer is aware that this film will address some of the deep philosophical questions of all time complemented by visual imagery which enhances and enlarges on the dialogue.
The film is then divided into twelve sections: The Soul, The Body, Mental Disorder, Mind to Molecule, Bit to Brain, Consciousness, Free Will, Citizenship, The Moral Brain, The Brain on Trial, The Medical Mind, and Who Am I? Experts from multiple fields such as theology, neuroscience, psychiatry, law and justice, philosophy, sociology, history of medicine, physics, computer science, and filmmaking offer insights and questions either directly to the camera, or as voice-over for other imagery.
For example, to name just a few of the numerous eminent persons in the film, there are statements by mathematical physicist Roger Penrose (Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, and The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and the Laws of Physics), philosopher Daniel Dennett (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, and Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds), philosopher John R. Searle (Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy in the Real World) and neurologist Antonio Damasio (Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain). The multiple experts all address the basic question posed by the film: "What will a science of the brain add to the human story?" but the approaches to the question, and what aspects of the question are most important, vary considerably in this far ranging journey through religion, history, ethics, medicine and science.
A few of the many interesting segments of the film include sections on cognitive neuroscientist Nancy Kanwisher who studies specialization by parts of the brain, such as a face-recognition center; developmental neuroanatomist Miguel Marin-Padilla, who has studied the motor cortex for over 25 years, which he demonstrates by dissection to be smaller than the tip of his finger; and Dennett’s one-armed robot, Cog, which is "learning" in developmental stages as an infant would. Eloquent commentary is also provided by computer scientist Jaron Lanier, sociologist Howard Kaye, psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, and filmmaker Ken Burns, among others.
Much of the film deals with psychopathology and implications for morality, behavior, and responsibility for behavior (free will and crime). Segments include an interview with a patient with manic-depressive disorder, a historical note on Phineas Gage (whose dramatic wound of his frontal lobe so altered his behavior), and a lawyer, psychiatrist and judge discussing free will, diminished capacity, and the legal system.
The film concludes with some concerns about reductionism to the biologic model of the mind, the growing haziness of borders between human and artificial intelligence, and the role of psychoactive medications. Although full mapping of the brain may not lead to complete understanding of the mind, still, the film concludes, the quest is fun.
Paul Ehrlich (Edward G. Robinson) works as a hospital dermatologist, but his two passions are his family and his independent research into dyes and stains. When he abandons his call-duty to attend a lecture by Robert Koch, hospital officials have all they need to dismiss the annoying Jew. Koch, however, engages him to develop dyes to enhance the visibility of the newly discovered tubercle bacillus.
Ehrlich's health is broken by the research, but one success leads to another. With Emil von Behring (Otto Kruger), he works on a serum to save children with diphtheria. Moved by the anxiety of the mothers, he refuses to maintain untreated controls. His superiors are furious, but the state is grateful and he is awarded his own institute.
Ehrlich turns his attention to finding a "magic bullet" to treat syphilis, but his relationship with von Behring founders. Arsenic derivatives are endlessly modified until success is reached in 1910 with agent 606. A few deaths in treated subjects prompt Ehrlich's enemies to arrange a formal inquiry, but he is completely exonerated and reconciled with von Behring.
Summary:When diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) at age 36, filmmaker Ben Byer began recording a video diary. Episodes from his diary create the engaging, coherent narrative of "Indestructible," a documentary that intimately, but unsentimentally invites viewers to witness Byer's and his family's responses to his diagnosis. Their first impulse is to search for a cure for this degenerative disease, "the grim reaper of neurological diseases," a physician tells him. They also find themselves seeking ways to understand living with loss, most centrally losing the illusion of control over their lives.
Summary:This eight-and-a-half-minute video begins with a woman rocking in front of a window and waving her hands. We hear a woman’s voice singing the sound of “e,” almost without melody. The first half of the video follows this woman’s activities: a shot of her hand rhythmically scraping a looped wire against the surface of a door, repetitively stroking a keyboard, batting at the pull chain for window blinds, and bouncing an orange plastic slinky. The woman rubs her face against the pages of an open book and rocks and listens to the sound of the book’s pages as she flips through them.
Monica (Kay Francis) is a successful gynecologist about to open her own clinic, to be designed by Anna (Verree Teasdale), her architect friend. But she is desperate to have a baby and gravely disappointed to learn that a specialist cannot help. Her husband, John (Warren William), leaves for Europe having just decided to end a secret affair with their mutual friend, Mary (Jean Muir), an accomplished pilot. John does not know that Mary is pregnant.
Without revealing the name of her child's father, Mary appeals to Monica. At first, without ever mentioning the word, she asks for an abortion, which Monica firmly rejects, telling her that having a fatherless baby will be "lovely!" After a failed attempt at aborting herself through a deliberate riding accident, Mary accepts seclusion in a private clinic. Complications arise.
Just as Monica decides that she must perform a (never-to-be-explained) procedure to deliver the child, she overhears Mary calling for John and suddenly understands the situation. Like "a machine," she responds to Anna's slap and command that she fulfill her professional duties--yet she is cold to Mary and refuses to see the baby. She makes plans to go to Europe to prepare for her new clinic. But Mary leaves her baby on Monica's doorstep and flies her plane out over the Atlantic never to be seen again. With John's approval, Monica cancels her trip to adopt the infant; however, she does not tell her husband to whom the child was born.
Screenwriter and director Ryan Fleck expanded his award-winning short film--Gowanus, Brooklyn-- into the 2007 feature-length drama, Half-Nelson. The central character of the film is Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) an eighth-grade history teacher struggling to make the subject relevant to his students at a troubled school in the heart of poverty-stricken, crime-ridden Brooklyn. His creativity in the classroom and his commitment to the students, predominately African-American and Latino teens, is real, without pretense or condescension. Rather than relying on canned curricula and traditional methodologies such as recounting battles and memorizing dates, he tries to inspire his students with the ideology of Karl Marx, the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the film footage of Mario Savio, student leader of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s.
However, Dan's idealism and energy begin to wane, and he easily justifies anesthetizing himself in order to escape his growing recognition that he will likely make little or no difference in the world. As his drug use intensifies, Dan's connections with friends, family, colleagues, and eventually, students completely unravel. But his downward spiral into addiction is intertwined with and counterpointed by a complex and subtle relationship that develops between him and thirteen-year old, Drey (Shareeka Epps) when she discovers her teacher, Mr. Dunne, slumped nearly unconscious in the bathroom stall of the school gym, a crack pipe still in his hand.
After reading Tad Friend's article, "Jumpers: The Fatal Grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge" in an October 2003 issue of The New Yorker, filmmaker Eric Steel became so fascinated by the mystery of the final, dark moments of a human being who makes the long journey across the bridge to his or her death that he finagled $100,000 worth of equipment and moved from New York to San Francisco. At 5:00 AM on a rainy New Year's Day in 2004, Steel and his ragtag crew set up their cameras, beginning a strange year-long vigil. Training telephoto lenses on the mid-span of the bridge, they peered intently from dawn to dusk, watching for "suspicious behavior" or a "sense of despair" among the crowds passing back and forth. During that year of filming, twenty-two people ended their lives, some caught on tape and some not; however, six attempts were thwarted by the film crew who became quite adept at indentifying potential victims and alerting the Bridge Patrol.
Photographed from multiple perspectives, at all times of day, and in all kinds of weather, the Golden Gate Bridge is the main character of this documentary film. It is formidable; it is magnificent; it is ominous; it is alluring. According to the film: "More people have chosen to end their lives [here] than anywhere else in the world." The sublime images not only capture the many facets and features of the structure, but they also illustrate the emotions and represent the psychology of the other narratives intertwined in the film: the stories of seven individuals who jumped from the bridge during the course of that year.
There is thirty-four year-old Gene, a haunting figure dressed all in black whose story begins and ends the documentary. Like the film crew, we watch him prowl the bridge day after day, his long dark hair whipping in the wind until he makes that final leap, a dramatic backward dive. There is forty-four year-old Lisa, who has suffered throughout her adult life with schizophrenia and who disappears off the bridge on Easter Sunday afternoon. And there is twenty-two year-old Philip whose parents relate the history of their son's struggle with mental illness.
In addition to using footage of the bridge being obscured by fog as an evocative image of the progressive suffocation of self, the filmmaker employs long shots of the island of Alcatraz to symbolize the prison of mental illness. Indeed, Philip's father describes his son's leap from the bridge as a release, "the only way he could get free."
This is the story of an adult brother and sister whose lives are indelibly marked by the deaths of their parents, killed in a car accident when the children were young. Set in the small town in upstate NewYork where they grew up, the film centers on a visit by Terry (Mark Ruffalo) to his older sister Sammy (Laura Linney). Portraying the vicissitudes of their relationship, the film traces the effects of loss on these two compelling individuals.
The film opens uncoyly with the scene of the parents' fatal car accident. Beneath the credits we watch the church-funeral, the two small children clutching hands while a Minister addresses the assembled.
When the story picks up, we are introduced to the lives of the now adult siblings. Sammy is still living in their parents' home, working in a local bank branch office and raising her son Rudy, a somber eight-year old who is becoming curious about his estranged father. Rudy, at eight, is the age Terry was when their parents died. Sammy is a reliable, loving mom, but otherwise her life appears constricted.
We find Terry, the younger brother who is now twenty-five years old, saying goodbye to a much younger girlfriend; he is leaving to borrow some money from his sister, whom he hasn't seen in two years. Terry, endearing but irresponsible, is leading a marginal existence, broke and unemployed, no fixed address.
A long restaurant reunion scene between the siblings reveals the texture of their relationship. We see that Sammy adores and worries about Terry; he is the light of her life. Terry conveys restless discomfort with his sister's expectations, experiencing her concern for him as a burden. He reveals that he has been out of touch because he was in prison for a while, and that he needs to borrow money to pay for a girl's abortion.
After learning that his girlfriend has attempted suicide, Terry sends her the money and decides to stay with Sammy for a while. In small increments, Terry and his nephew Rudy warm up to one another. Meanwhile Sammy's life takes an unexpected turn as she begins an affair with her controlling, married boss (Matthew Broderick); this begins just after an old flame of hers resurfaces with a marriage proposal. Neither relationship provides her much nourishment. Without easy answers, the film helps us connect the dots between Sammy's unsatisfying relationships with men and her adaptation to loss and to becoming the caretaking elder sibling.
Terry's visit goes wrong when, after a series of small irresponsible dealings with Rudy, Terry takes it upon himself to introduce the child to his estranged father, resulting in an ugly scene. Sammy, distraught, asks her brother to leave, as he "doesn't know how to be around an eight year old." The film ends with their farewell as they wait for Terry's bus out of town. Terry doesn't know where he is heading or when he'll be back. The scene presents a remarkable exchange of feelings as Terry comforts Sammy, telling her it's always good to know that she "is back here rooting" for him, and assuring her that "everything will be all right -comparatively." Sammy cannot draw him into her world or her life, and every parting with him feels permanent. They find their childhood connection in this scene--and the camera follows each of them for several beats after they separate, Terry on the bus and then Sammy driving to work. We feel them slowly absorbing the violence of severing--going back into themselves. Have they affirmed that in fact they can count on one another or reminded themselves (and us) that nothing can be counted on?
A surprise element in the movie is the character of Father Ron, a Minister played by writer-director Kenneth Lonergan. Sammy turns to the minister for guidance, seeking advice about her brother. In two surprising scenes, Father Ron injects into the narrative a sweetly earnest note regarding faith and finding meaning in our lives.
As the film opens, Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is exuberantly preparing to leave his run-down Texas hometown to head for New York City. He has outfitted himself as a spiffy cowboy, intending to "hustle" wealthy New York women who will beg for his sexual favors, and pay him in the bargain. As he interacts with the bus passengers during the long journey to the Big City, we see that underneath the bravado, Joe is anxious for friendship and haunted by memories of a lonely childhood. Abandoned by his mother (a father is never in the picture), Joe was raised by his grandmother, who spoiled him, yet neglected him, and whose assorted boyfriends competed with him for her attention.
In New York, Joe is naive and out of place. His attempts to hustle women are rebuffed or backfire ludicrously--he ends up paying them. In a Times Square bar, he runs into a crippled con-man, "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), who offers to be his "manager" but steals his money in a scam. As his funds run out, Joe resorts to selling himself in a homosexual encounter; even this backfires--he picks up a student who has no money.
As Joe is becoming quite desperate--homeless, with only his portable radio for company--he runs into Ratso again. Partly to make amends, and partly out of his own loneliness, Ratso invites Joe to his "home," a room in an abandoned building, without electricity or heat. Warily at first, and then with increasing mutual respect, the two set up housekeeping. Theirs is a daily struggle for survival--petty thievery, selling blood, and fantasies of a gigolo's life in warm Miami sustain them.
In the heatless apartment Ratso's health deteriorates--he has a chronic cough, smokes constantly, and the weather is frigid. Underground movie-makers choose them as street curiosities for the camera, inviting them to an avant-garde party replete with food, drugs, and a rich woman (Brenda Vacarro), who takes Joe into her bed and pays him for it, arranging another "transaction" later in the week for a woman friend.
Joe thinks he has finally made it. Ratso, however, has a high fever, can no longer walk, and refuses medical attention. Joe makes the choice: he assaults and steals for the busfare to take Ratso to Miami. During the trip Joe tells Ratso, "I'm going to get some sort of job--outdoor work--I'm no hustler." But Ratso, seated next to him, has died. Joe puts his arm around the dead man, protecting him from the curious stares of the other passengers.
Summary:The film opens with the discovery of Dr. Victor Frankenstein's will in his Transylvanian village. A skeleton, presumably Dr. Frankenstein's, and a man wrestle for the box holding the will. The man wins, takes it to a town meeting where the will is read and calls for the transfer of the property to the dead scientist's grandson, Frederick. Following this scene we meet the grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), a surgeon who is busy instructing medical students in clinical neuroanatomy (comparing the brain to a cauliflower). When asked about his grandfather by a medical student, Freddy, who pronounces the family name "Fron kon steen", declares that Victor was "a cuckoo". The student is relentless in pursuing the family ties, exasperating Freddy, who finally plunges a scalpel into his thigh, a sight gag paying homage to Peter Sellers' stabbing himself with a letter opener in A Shot in the Dark (1964). When the courier from Transylvania arrives, he persuades Freddy to return to his ancestral castle for the execution of the will. A hilarious railroad platform scene in which Freddy bids goodbye to his "beautiful, flat-chested" (as described in the online original etext of the script by Gene Wilder) fiancée, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), only highlights the incredibly neurotic natures of the two lovers -- Wilder as a possessed but wacky scientist and Kahn as a narcissistic and apparently remote and shallow woman.