Main Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Jenny Slate, Thomas Mann, Tyler Perry, Carrie-Anne Moss, Richard Armitage
Director: Gerard Barrett
‘Brain on Fire’ is a biological drama film based on Susannah Cahalan’s account named ‘Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness’. The film follows the story of a young aspiring Cahalan who randomly begins to experience strange symptoms such as irregular mood swings, hallucinations, and seizures. As time passes, the symptoms begin to get worse until she is forced by her parent to get her self checked through different clinics. Brain on Fire was officially released on 22ndFebruary 2017 and is available to watch on Netflix.
The movie tells the story of the young aspiring journalist Cahalan who begins to experience strange symptoms such as irregular mood swings, hallucinations and headaches … As time goes on, symptoms begin to worsen until his parents force him to be examined by different clinics. After a number of misdiagnosis and experiencing constant psychological agony, Cahalan and her parents finally discover a doctor who manages to point out the cause of this psychological trauma, after which, they work together to reconstruct Cahalan’s social life.
Brain on Fire is considered to be more than just an average film. It addresses some of the most underrated themes that people generally tend to ignore in real life: mental health awareness and family support, medical wandering.
The movie shows how much Susannah’s disease is underestimated, to the point that many certified doctors can’t even diagnose it. We see the emotional effects and traumas that patients experience. One of the biggest threats to chronic and invisble illness is that most people who talk about it are not taken seriously. The film also focuses on the family effects of illness and medical wandering: throughout the film, parents and children discuss the issues they face. Cahalan, through the plot of the film, explains how a major factor in his recovery is due to the constant support of his parents – especially his stepfather, despite his mood swings and burst outs.
In these moments, one of the underestimated factors that plays on the management and improvement or on the contrary the deterioration of the patients’ condition is the family support.Unfortunately this support is not present. Without the help of his parents, Cahalan would never even have been admitted to a clinic, and finally fully recovered.
Despite a very solid scenario and incredible acting, the film has always received a lot of criticism from its viewers. Critics have argued that the end of the film was rushed because of what, the film seemed incomplete. The director’s main concern was the pain and depression of the character, while it had to be a balance between the effects of the disease and the recovery process.
This story resonated a lot with me because I have an “invisible” disease called the Ehlers-Danlos syndrome that has been very difficult to diagnose. I saw myself in this film, as, I think, many people with an “invisible” and little-known chronic disease will see each other.
When I talked about the movie with my boyfriend recently, he told me:
“You know, I saw your “flares up” and I saw your medical reports, the tests and the prescriptions, but there are still times when I feel like you’re lying to me, because you look OK ”
This “You look OK so you must be fine” kills me like most patients and it is not the prerogative of doctors, but also of our friends. These remarks are not made to hurt us, but question our suffering which is often taken as a real insult because it is in a way.
I saw myself in this film, in the permanent impression of having to prove that we are sick, that people do not understand because we do not see the enormous mental and physical efforts put in place to “be” socially present in a positive way.
I have known serial misdiagnosis, the fear that we never find what we have, and the lack of confidence of most doctors who when they do not find answers consider that “it is in your head “and finally the depression and anxiety that results from this situation which drives you to put your mental health in question.
Doctors do not understand our symptoms and therefore automatically think that we are stressed or depressed and finally because we do not receive help, support, or even sometimes no mark of respect or dignity we become anxious and depressed. This leads to inadequate patient care and diagnostic wavering and the cause of a delay in diagnosis. That makes it particularly painful physically and mentally for patients and for families.
Overall, “Brain on Fire” is a brilliant representation of Susannah Cahalan’s memoirs. The film raises awareness by describing how patients who suffer from psychological illnesses feel and really need to be treated.