My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014)

Jane and Kimberly get a new answer from My Beautiful Broken Brain to the question “What would I do if the worst thing in the world happened to me?” An abrupt ending to a young woman’s dream proves to be a more powerful beginning than she could’ve dreamed in the first place. 

My Beautiful Broken Brain is a 2014 documentary film about what happened in the life of 34-year-old Lotje Sodderland after she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke as a result of a congenital vascular malformation in November 2011. She initially experienced aphasia, the complete loss of her ability to read, write, or speak coherently.

David Lynch became an executive producer of the film.

 Lotje Sodderland, for all extensive purposes, was a young woman who had it all: a gorgeous and chic apartment in London, a supportive and loving family, and the start of a burgeoning documentary filmmaking career. She was an attractive and vivacious blonde with everything lain ahead of her, a life worth claiming as her own. Then one day it all changed when she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. The world as she knew it, and had earnestly, through hard work, crafted, was gone. I went into this documentary thinking it would be the tale of a victim and a harsh look at a life-changing trauma, but instead, I found an accidental heroine, someone who profoundly touched me. Contrary to a tale of martyrdom, I found a tale of unique bravery. In her own words, Lotje said, “Having a stroke aged 34 was liberating, I had no past and no future.” Instead of being struck down by this severe ounce of bad luck, this young woman decided to take her lemons and make lemonade.

 Can you imagine? The first thing you think of when you wake up from a stroke is to make a film of what you’re experiencing? You can’t speak, can’t get words out of your mouth, yet you decide to turn a camera on yourself so that you can see yourself, remember what’s happening to you and share daily views of yourself with anyone who’s into watching? I’m not 34 in 2014, so I wasn’t brought up on Selfies, but I am a movie enthusiast who believes in images as a universal language that bypasses speech. Interesting that you call her an accidental heroine. In fact, hero and heroine in Jungian terms mean to integrate an internal dragon, a roaring threat rising up from the unconscious to challenge the existing order of the individual psyche, and create a new sense of being. Lotje garnered this spirit of renewal and found a way to share her experience with us all.

 I believe turning the camera into a mirror was a key element of her healing process. Not only did she use her documentation as a film project to keep her going and creativity propel herself into a new life that had been unexpectedly handed to her, but she also used it to show the world what it is was like to experience such a profound medical disaster and walk outward from its mystery. It was like seeing an infant learn to live in the world, step by step, day by day, with all the discoveries that come from transitioning between the unknown to the known.

 Yes, I think her film goes beyond documentary. She’s inspirational, opening the door to a philosophical realization that our ability to see, perceive, and understand images make life worth living. In Lotje’s case, in the face of losing her usual way of seeing, speaking and being, she embraces a start fresh with a newfound appreciation of a common capability we take too much for granted – seeing. Implicitly, with imagined scenes of internal seeing that seem a lot like images of outer space, she suggests non-seeing drops the every day for something visionary.

 What if we all stopped right now in the middle of our own lives and decided that today was a blank slate? How would we see differently if everything we encountered would be considered as brand new, not jaded by past experience or imprinted influence? The film is a reminder not to become complacent in life. It’s a reminder to be present with the journey of being alive.

 I also liked the doc as a candid, unapologetic version of Lotje’s truth, the way she personally envisioned her experience. With her co-director and producer, Sophie Robinson, Lotje’s inner world was put up onto the big screen as visual pastiches suggestive of an innate brain connection to visions of space. Lotje’s story is slow and the slow-moving hallucinatory visions are not well suited for TV viewing yet its overall message of there being a whole new way of experiencing oneself after a devastating event is worth the wait. It’s no wonder that their film caught the interest of David Lynch, one of the most well known imagistic American filmmakers.

 Yes, I read that David Lynch was Lotje’s idol. Before her stroke, she was just one in a million young documentary filmmakers with a slim chance of ever catching the famous director’s eye. Yet, in an ironic twist of fate, coupled with her courage to turn her personal experience into art, she caught his attention. I can’t help but think her survivor spirit, her commitment to living despite a terrible setback, and her passion for filmmaking created the perfect karmic cocktail that led to this success. There is a lesson for all of us in this.

 Right, I will never take the everyday act of opening my eyes in the morning and seeing my bedroom ceiling for granted ever again.

 There is that kind of unbelievable real-life ending for Lotje. At the end of the movie, she finds love and marriage. She is living a simple life and is happy. It may be the complete opposite of the life she thought she would have; yet in her beaming smile, we see an achievement of pure joy. What would happen if we all set aside our goals and dreams and desires and settled into the act of just seeing and being with what is handed to us daily instead? What if our lives were carved in that kind of perfect flow that stems from going through moment to moment with nothing but an absolute presence and the ability to see and embrace everything in our paths from an organic perspective? That is the food for thought I come away with from watching this film. A worthy consideration.

 You love those questions that beg us to follow a lifeline of possibility. And it may, in fact, be that our senses go deep and far, beyond even traumatic impairment, to keep us in touch with loving life. Definitely a worthy consideration. Okay, we liked Lotje’s movie and want people to see what she saw. Easy, it’s streaming on Netflix.

3 thoughts on “My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014)”

  1. Sounds like an amazing film and I look forward to seeing it. In particular because remarkably I just watched a film on a similar theme though from a distinct point of view, called “Notes On Blindness” about John Hull, a theologian who rather suddenly lost his sight as a young man, and decided to record his experience, day to day. That is, literally record his thoughts and emotions on one of the old machines from the eighties. His voice and that of his wife’s and children is the narration for this revealing film.

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