Films can be a powerful tool for educating people on a variety of topics and issues. That is only if they manage to get the facts right, and not just rely on stereotypes to make their case. Movies about epilepsy have been around for a while, although most miss the mark due to their stigmatization of the condition. However, there are few that come pretty close to addressing epilepsy as a genuine issue instead of using it for dramatization.
Here’s a list of movies that you need to watch to better understand epilepsy and sensitize yourself towards the condition.
Control is based on the real-life adventures of a singer from the 70s – Ian Curtis. This British biographical film was inspired by a book on his life titled Touching from a distance, authored by his widow Deborah. It traces Ian’s life with her, his band Joy Division, his struggle with epilepsy, and his death by suicide. The movie’s name is inspired by the song “She’s Lost Control”, which he penned for an epileptic client. He had helped her find a job in their hometown and had later learned of her death due to a seizure. The film has been appreciated for its cinematography, acting, and honest, no-bullshit depiction of epilepsy in real life.
Garden State (2004)
An American rom-com that revolves around the life of Andrew (played by Zach Braff), Garden State lightly addresses epilepsy through its character Sam (played by Natalie Portman). The protagonist, a 26-year old actor/writer returns to his hometown after his mother dies, where he also meets Sam, a happy-go-lucky girl. Garden State finds a mention in a recently published article surrounding epilepsy in film and literature by Christer Mjåset (a neurosurgeon). He elaborates the film’s depiction of the failings of the American insurance system in helping people living with epilepsy. According to him, the “helmet” that Sam is made to wear to work as a “preventative measure” shows the same.
Electricity is a British film based on a book of the same name written by Roy Robinson. It revolves around a young woman named Lily who has been diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. She is made to quit her safe and routine life to embark on a quest to London, looking for a brother she believed was dead. During her journey, she experiences severe mal seizures and even hallucinations that distort her perception of reality. On the whole, the movie portrays the condition through the eyes of someone living with it. It has been partially funded by the Wellcome Foundation and backed by the Epilepsy Society and Dr. Gonzalo Alarcon, a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Neurophysiology at King’s College London.
First Do No Harm (1997)
First Do No Harm is an American TV film directed by Jim Abrahams, starring Meryl Streep as the protagonist. She plays a mother whose son has been diagnosed with epilepsy and the movie shows her struggle against a narrow-minded medical establishment. It follows the family’s journey – from finding the right medications, dealing with side effects and incompetent insurance companies, to managing expenses, and still maintaining a livelihood. The movie focuses on a ketogenic diet run by dietician Millicent Kelly, that helps alleviate Robbie’s symptoms. Kelly ran the program in real-life during the 1940s. It has also been mentioned in a book on childhood epilepsy by John Freeman, the director of the Pediatric Epilepsy Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The movie is partially based on the director Abraham’s experiences with his son Charlie who had developed a very serious seizure condition. It attempts to address epilepsy with honesty and sensitivity, almost aptly dealing with the stigma and the attitude that it brings out in onlookers.
Seized: Inside The Mystery Of Epilepsy (2016)
‘Seized’ documents some really intense intimate moments of patients, healthcare professionals, and their respective families battling to cope with epilepsy and working relentlessly to find newer treatments for the condition. According to epilepsy.com, it features leaders in epilepsy research such as Dr. Devinsky, director of the NYU Langone Epilepsy Center; Dr. Finkelstein, program director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; Dr. Parko, Epilepsy Foundation Professional Advisory Board member and national director of the Veterans Affairs Epilepsy Centers of Excellence; and Dr. Fireman, Foundation vice president of research and new therapies. The film is directed and produced by Peter Schnall, a seven-time Academy Award-winning film director, and producer. He was inspired by his partner Amy Moritz, an epilepsy awareness activist who was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 13; now at 53, she has been seizure-free for almost 15 years.
Zach, A Film About Epilepsy (2006)
Zach, a film about epilepsy is a fly-on-the-wall documentary that explores a day in the life of a young man, Zachary Smith, who has been diagnosed with a severe form of epilepsy. It follows his interactions with his parents, therapists, and school. Directed by Christian de Rezendes, the movie has a run time of just 20 mins and can be viewed through IMDb. The film examines the unconditional support of family and other caregivers, and the various physical therapies and educational efforts required to keep him connected to the outside world. A nonprofit, Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) has helped co-produce this film to fuel its attempts at raising funding and awareness around this condition. The documentary helps viewers understand the extremities of being diagnosed with epilepsy.
The above-mentioned movies have been put together after thorough research of their contents and consequent reception of the film by viewers. However, readers are still advised to watch them with a grain of salt. Almost all of the fictional movies depict white protagonists and are subject to gender biases as well. They have been proven to be educational, provided that the viewers do not assume any stereotypes. Each movie is unique in its own story and cannot be used to generalize to all people living with epilepsy, but can only help to understand the effects of the condition better.