Directed by: Sophie Robinson & Lotje Sodderland
Premieres: Friday, March 18th on Netflix
“I’m not dead. That’s a start.”
Even before his name is uttered, referenced commonly as subject Lotje Sodderland’s idol and eventual producer of the film, David Lynch’s imprint becomes obvious in the various metaphysical textures of My Beautiful Broken Brain. Directed by Sophie Robinson, alongside Sodderland herself, the documentary follows Lotje in the wake of a stroke brought on by a severe brain hemorrhage. The aftermath leaves her distorted and somewhat remote, as if a wall has been placed between her mind and reality as the majority of us experience it. Of course, that previous sentence contains a fallacy: there is no singular way in which reality is perceived. My Beautiful Broken Brain stumbles into these larger meditations on body, mind and self by utilizing tumultuous visual and auditory techniques. It would be fair to assume, even without the evidence to back up the claim, that Lynch would be proud.
My Beautiful Broken Brain begins with a hazy recreation of the hemorrhage. Words, clearly from Lotje’s perspective, appear onscreen in a thin, buzzy font before melting away. The camera draws her movements from a first-person perspective – peeling through the house, creating disarray, passing out in the bathroom of a local hotel. The emergency procedure follows, as talking heads pop up to provide a structured narrative and emotional insight (these yields to a general documentary form undercut the more experimental passages, though only slightly). Jan, Lotje’s brother, becomes the most notable figure beyond the subject due both to his importance in her life and his general charisma and deadpan humor.
Lotje herself is a tremendously engaging presence; testimony and home video belie the fact that this likely would have been true even without her condition. We witness glimpses into this previous personality – dark punchlines aimed at her disabilities to her brother, a sheepish smile when she knows her superior intelligence still exists somewhere in the midst of her faulty wiring. Lotje shoots some portions of the film on what appears to be a smartphone. Early on, three of these vertical shots are stitched together in a moment that serves to introduce the viewer to Lotje as a person, as well as speak to the larger formal ingenuity on display throughout.
Often, the film will cut between a shot of Lotje, confession her thoughts as she strolls through a neighborhood and another perspective view wherein we see the world modified as she might witness it. These shots, colors streaking across the screen and faces warped beyond comprehension, grow from fascinating to terrifying after an experimental surgery leaves brutal side-effects on Lotje’s psyche.
My Beautiful Broken Brain, at its best, captures the sensation of slowly draining away from the natural world while, paradoxically, growing closer to the true intentions of nature. That murky psychology is emblematic of Lynch’s own occasional worldview: at one point Lotje says that this condition makes her feel as if she were trapped in the red room from Twin Peaks. Later, a magazine interview with Lynch becomes the first thing she’s capable of reading in complete sentences. Those words ring harrowingly true to her, something about the true beauty of the world stemming from within oneself. The documentary sometimes meanders into the fascinating question of what defines a human being after traits of their personality have evaporated. It never strays into these areas long enough to make a definitive impact, but that’s mostly because its primary concern is Lotje herself. Less a study of the human mind than a portrait of a singular experience, My Beautiful Broken Brain proves that life is best lived with meaningful contemplation.