Festivals / Reviews

East End Film Festival 2013: ‘The Man Whose Mind Exploded’ (2012, dir. Toby Amies, UK)

The Man Whose Mind Exploded

The Man Whose Mind Exploded
Directed by Toby Amies

Drako Oho Zahar Zahar is an enigma of sorts, having survived two comas, two nervous breakdowns and two suicide attempts, emerging on the other side with his life intact yet his mind forever shattered into uncollected fragments. This documentary’s ostensibly crude title, The Man Whose Mind Exploded, refers to the destructive effect Drako’s comas have had on his memory. Each day he awakens, vaguely aware of who he is, where he is, though uncertain of what may have come before. His small apartment has no bare walls, littered with photographs pasted atop of one another and dangling from the ceiling like postcards suspended in air; to him they are the stars of his inner universe, an external roadmap of the visual memories and synaptic connections no longer present inside his mind; to others, including long-suffering nephew Marc and director Toby Amies, they are a fire hazard. “We are sitting in his mind, in a sense,” concedes Amies, pushing his camera through the mass of hoarded memorabilia to ascertain a sense of spatial understanding, acknowledging the power of images in reinforcing memory and defining one’s identity.

It’s curious that a good majority of the imagery surrounding the walls of Drako’s interior are of naked men with erect penises, a factor that’s bound to have the film run into some censorial problems when seeking wider distribution. But the prominence of such naughtiness, not just on Drako’s walls but in his everyday behaviour – he squeezes his nipples through his shirt and describes sordid fantasies for the camera – suggests that even when our capacity to maintain a mental backlog subsides, we’re still left with base human instincts and desires.

Audiences will be reminded of Nolan’s Memento upon observing Drako’s practice of tattooing his body as a means of remembering key lessons. The oft-repeated phrase, “Trust, Absolute, Unconditional” is emblazoned across his arm, accompanied by a permanent smile and the one transferable answer for everything: “Love it all.” In light of Drako’s condition, memory and knowledge is unquestionably a burden; living each day like it’s the first, he avoids the weight of repetition, boredom and existential dissatisfaction. “There is a danger, because he believes everyone’s honest,” explains Marc. What blissful ignorance!

Drako’s past is granted a cursory glance, his family enlightening us to his history of ballet jazz dancing and modelling for Salvador Dali, as well as the motorcycle and truck accidents that sent him into the two comas. But the majority of the film takes place in the present – as the man himself would prefer – and as each family member soon loses their energy and drifts away, it falls to the man behind the camera, Toby Amies, to step in as frequent helper to this wheezy old soul.  From here, the boundary between filmmaker and subject breaks down into scenes alternately touching and discomforting, the camera turned on its maker and at times discarded entirely on the floor.

“You’re new every day to me,” says Drako, letting Amies in for yet another successive day of well-intentioned nagging. The scenario is fresh for him at least, though repetitive for all in observance. It seems as if, by the time we’ve lost count of the number of Amies’ visits, we’re simply waiting for nothing other than the eventual death of Drako to plant a full stop on the documentary’s narrative. Indeed, when Amies jokingly admits to Drako, “I’m only doing this because I need you in my film,” there is a darker inference to his words that nevertheless shoot over the smiling bald head of his trusting companion. This is a loving yet dubious treatment, not without its fair share of implications for filmmaker, subject, and ourselves as spectators.

East End Film Festival runs from 25 June to 10 July across various East End venues, including Genesis Cinema, Rich Mix and Hackney Picturehouse.

Read my original entry at PopOptiq/Sound on Sight.

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