Brain On Fire

“Have you ever been trapped? Lost in your own body, lost in your own mind? Lost in time so desperate to escape to just get out?” – Susannah

“Brain on fire” is a movie directed by Gerard Barret, it is based on a true story. Susannah Cahalan is a 21-year-old American journalist at the New York Post, she finds herself a victim of a very rare disease “Anti – NMDA receptor encephalitis”.

Susannah is very passionate and happy in her dream job. She is surrounded by a loving family, a supportive colleague named “Margo” and a loving boyfriend called “Stephen”. By far, everything is going fine with her until she starts to have those flu-like symptoms and with time these symptoms have developed to numbness in her left arm, fatigue and later to hallucinations.

The first time I saw the movie, I liked it .The quick cuts used by the director reflected the feeling of dizziness felt by Susannah and the part where she couldn’t see her reflection in the mirror, was a very smart way to portray her loss of identity and the things that were going on inside her mind. The sound effects were good as well, especially in the scene where she was in front of her piano. It makes us kind of hear the things she hears. Yet I couldn’t ignore the feeling that something is missing, so i started doing my research and that’s when i found out about the book , which is also titled “Brain on fire”  written by” Susannah Cahalan” herself . I decided to read it.

While reading the book I was amazed by how rare and hard to diagnose Susannah’s disease. I felt the struggle and worry that Susannah and her surroundings were feeling. What was going to happen to her? is she going to get well? Are they going to find a cure?

In comparison to the book, the movie fails in showing the real struggle “Susannah” and her parents were going through. The movie also fails in transmitting the evolution of “Susannah’s” symptoms, and the changes that happened in her character… from a loving, confident, sociable, and independent girl to an angry, illogical, crazy, aggressive, and dependent woman. She had no control over the changes that was happening to her.

The movie missed so many details that are essential in a biographical movie, for instance Susannah’s lucky ring that she lost when she went through her first MRI. It wasn’t a main event but its symbolism is essential to Susannah’s character. It would also be better if the movie showed the world through “Susannah’s” eyes. In some places we could “hear” what Susannah was hearing but we never “saw” what she was seeing. Yet I loved the effects used on her face when she was swinging on her own chair and I loved the movie overall. Susannah’s story could be an inspiration for a horror movie, even though it fails to describe the real horror and pain the girl is feeling.

“Susannah Cahalan” is lucky for she have found a real caring doctor and a loving family that showed her love and support. Sometimes when we watch a movie or when we read a story, it doesn’t have much of an impact on us as to when we know that it is based on a true story.

“Brain on fire” doesn’t only enlighten us about the Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis disease but it also leaves us with hope and belief that some people do really care, and that being a doctor like “Dr. Najjar” isn’t just a job. If it isn’t based on humanity and real care, miracles won’t happen.

Ninette Abi Atallah

The Word – الكلمة


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