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Ann’s Beautiful Broken Brain

by Ann Millett-Gallant

My Beautiful Broken Brain, 2016 (Sophie Robinson and Lotje Sodderland, dirs.) is a powerful and visually stunning documentary film about a 34-year-old British woman, Lotje Sodderland, who has a stroke. The camera angles and slowed-down film footage capture her embodied experience of having a spontaneous blood clot in her brain. Additional scenes in the film, some of which are sped up and some which appear like footage from a cell phone, articulate Lotje’s subsequent memory loss, aphasia (trouble with language recall and sequencing), and sensory overload. Lotje comments that her perceptions of time and space are surreal and, frustrated that she cannot retain her pre-stroke brain functions, she enters a three-month rehabilitation program at a local hospital. The experimental brain stimulation and other techniques she encounters in the program cause her to have convulsions and hallucinations, depicted by the camera in flashes of intense color and in the juxtaposition of varying tempos. Lotji becomes disillusioned with medical and therapeutic practices and retreats to the peaceful countryside, where she is featured smiling, frolicking in the sun, and experiencing a mind state of euphoria. She notes that she is relived to “give my brain a rest.”

Following this sojourn, Lotji discusses how she recognizes resemblance between how her brain processes images and specific imagery in the work of director David Lynch. She eventually meets and interacts with him, which contributes to her feeling of brain legitimacy. An afterword of the film reports that a year later, Lotje meets a man and gets married. Lotje lives and blossoms with her brain irregularities and almost extra-sensory perceptions, as she stops striving to be who she was before the stroke. In other words, the film has a happy ending, one of self-acceptance and hope. Lotji is designated as co-director of the film, such that it is a collaborative project.

In response to the film, I created a painting that I titled “Ann’s Beautiful Broken Brain.” The film showcases many images drawn from brain scans and other medical imaging of the brain, which reminded me of my own experimentation with my MRI and CT scans. I composed a brain image in bright blue with streaks of sparkling silver acrylic paint on a 12 in. x 12 in. canvas. I then used dramatic strokes and washes of glittering orange and hot pink paint for the background. Studying the somewhat automatic imagery surrounding my blue brain, I saw the semblance of a cat figure on the left-hand side of the canvas that I further articulated. I appreciated the sense of movement created by the brushstrokes and dots of color on the canvas, so I added some more blue paint to convey the fluid movement of water. Inspired by Lotji, my depiction of my brain and my brain injury here is colorful and jubilant.

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