If you are on this page looking for the greatest text book on anatomy or clinical neurology, you have reached it in error. Sorry!
This page is for those of you, like me, you love a good read, but don’t always want it to be a work of great scientific fact.
Better yet, given the amount of energy the NHS usually leave you with, some of your best learning might come from the movies. That way, you can sit back, crack out a nice glass of wine, munch a little popcorn and still feel the warm glow of “worth” that comes over you when you have done a little work.
Disclaimer This list is not in the least bit exhaustive and, as you can see, like much of the website, is a work in progress. If you can think of something I have left off, and there will be plenty of somethings in that category, then tell me and I will add it.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le scaphandre et le papillon)
Dir – Julian Schnabel; Novel – Jean-Dominique Bauby
This is top of the list for a reason. The book is a must read. “Locked in” from a brainstem stroke at the age of 43, Jean-Dominique, the editor of ELLE magazine at the time, managed to write a novel about his experience, by blinking his way through the alphabet with a dedicated speech therapist.
The book itself is 140 pages of perfection. You can, and probably will, read it in one sitting. The movie is wonderful and I dare you not to laugh at least as much as you cry.
I’m afraid the doctors in the movie don’t come across very well – but we never really do, now I come to think of it.
Directed and written by Peter Landesman
Okay, so hand on heart, this is yet to make it onto my watch list – largely because I don’t get out much anymore! That said, it is very topical. The movie is based on a 2009 GQ article call the “Game Brain” by Jeanne Marie Laskas.
The film centres around Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist who takes on the National Football League, who spend the bulk of the movie trying to suppress his research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) brain degeneration.
Not a massive financial success it looks pretty interesting and, should it make it to Netflix (other video streaming companies are available), then I shall be adding it to my wish list.
Spinal cord trauma
Dir: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
Pushing “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” pretty hard for top spot, in my humble opinion, this is quite simply brilliant. Based on a true story, which could mean almost anything (usually), this one actually ends with footage of the real protagonists, which makes it all the more powerful.
Philippe is a quadriplegic millionaire who is interviewing candidates for the position of his carer. Driss is there for the job so her can prove her is worth the job seeker’s allowance. To his dismay, the curmudgeonly Philippe gives him the job. What follows is comedy genius and the film manages to deal with difficult subject matter in a way that avoids becoming mawkish.
Feeling like you life is tough and need a) a pick-me-up and b) a reality check. Look no further.
The Sea Inside
Dir: Alejandro Amenábar
Right, first let me say that this is not an easy watch and, given my general emotional lability since becoming a parent, I have been avoiding this! You lot have no excuse…
Ramón Sampedro (Javier Bardem) is a Spanish ship mechanic and part-time poet who is left a quadriplegic after a diving accident. This film tells the true story of Sampedro’s 30-year battle for the legal right to end his own life. He develops close relationships with his long-term lawyer Julia (Belén Rueda) and his friend Rosa (Lola Dueñas), who tries to convince him that his life is worth living. Despite his situation, Ramon manages to inspire those around him to live life to the fullest.
Based on a true story this received huge critical acclaim on release and won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 2004.
Ramón Sampedro ended his own life by potassium cyanide poisoning in 1998, with the assistance of a close friend. I suspect this movie will make you examine your thoughts on assisted suicide closely.
This movie is genius and all the more relevant as we have now lost two of the people who made it special – Oliver Sacks, whose novel of the same name is a true masterpiece and Robin Williams, whose Lewy body Dementia led to his untimely death.
Awakenings is the remarkable account of a group of patients who contracted sleeping-sickness during the great epidemic just after World War I. Frozen in a decades-long sleep, these men and women were given up as hopeless until 1969, when Sacks gave them the then-new drug L-DOPA, which had an astonishing, explosive, “awakening” effect.
In the novel, Sacks recounts the moving case histories of these individuals, the stories of their lives, and the extraordinary transformations they underwent with treatment. The book, which W. H. Auden called “a masterpiece,” is a passionate exploration of the most general questions of health, disease, suffering, care, and the human condition.
The movie’s central character is modeled on Sacks in all but name. I suspect there is plenty of artistic license too but the end result is mesmerising and wonderful.
Okay. So this is a bit of a mind bender, as befits a Christopher Nolan movie. This predates the Batman, Inception, Interstellar big-budget hits by some years but showcases the director at his devious best.
Imagine if you had no ability to lay down new memories but knew that someone had murdered your wife. How would you transform yourself to track down her killer and how could you make progress if your mind resets every day?
Are there neurological conditions that can really behave this way? Well, spend time chatting to a patient with transient global amnesia, or review an alcoholic with Korsakoff psychosis and you are getting close.
Worth a watch if you are feeling bright of mind and keen of eye.
Director: Michael Haneke
Perhaps not the most uplifting of movies but it won the Oscar in 2013 for best foreign language film, and pulls no punches in showing the strain that illness places on the relationship of isolated couples.
I could have put this in the “stroke” category but it crosses the boundary into cognitive, so here it stays. The narrative centres around an elderly couple, retired music teachers, and how they respond to the stroke that affects the wife, and her subsequent cognitive decline.
Director: Richard Eyre
True story of the lifelong romance between novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, from their student days through her battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
A linguistics professor and her family find their bonds tested when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Utterly beautiful, utterly compelling and utterly brilliant performance from Julianne Moore.
Away From Her
Director: Sarah Polley
A man coping with the institutionalization of his wife because of Alzheimer’s disease faces an epiphany when she transfers her affections to another man, Aubrey, a wheelchair-bound mute who also is a patient at the nursing home.
Director: Nick Cassavetes
A poor yet passionate young man falls in love with a rich young woman, giving her a sense of freedom, but they are soon separated because of their social differences.
Bit more romance in this one so if you have had a hard week and need a little love in your life, this is the one for you. Just tell yourself it revision.
Hilary & Jackie
Director: Anand Tucker
The tragic story of world renowned classic cellist Jacqueline du Pré, as told from the point of view of her sister, flautist Hilary du Pré-Finzi.
I’m sorry to say that this is a very sad movie, all the more so given the talent that MS robbed Jacqueline of. I’m happy to say that treatment options for MS are far, far better now so maybe this kind of movie will be impossible to make in 20 years time.
Director: Anton Corbijn
A profile of Ian Curtis, the enigmatic singer of Joy Division whose personal, professional, and romantic troubles led him to commit suicide at the age of 23.
You don’t get a lot of movies about epilepsy, and this isn’t really one either, but it is a great biopic of a great musician and a brilliant band. That Curtis’ dancing was described as “epileptic” was ironic and the condition was the topic of Joy Division’s song “Control”.
Director: Nimród Antal
This is one of my favourite odd movies. Set in the Hungarian underground system, it features a hopeless band of hated ticket inspectors just trying to get through the day. There’s a weird supernatural vibe to the movie but don’t let that put you off. There is also an attempt at a depiction of narcolepsy and cataplexy – not very accurate – but quite fun regardless.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Two Los Angeles homicide detectives are dispatched to a northern town where the sun doesn’t set to investigate the methodical murder of a local teen.
Early Christopher Nolan here and both an understated, weary Al Pacino and a truly creepy Robin Williams, who sadly succumbed to his own neurological illness (Dementia with Lewy bodies) in 2014.
This is a pretty unsettling movie but if you’ve ever suffered with insomnia, or been sleep deprived after a nightmare shift, you will fell Al Pacino’s pain.
Director: Brad Anderson
As Good As It Gets
Director: James L. Brooks
A single mother and waitress, a misanthropic author, and a gay artist form an unlikely friendship after the artist is assaulted in a robbery.
Genius movie and great performance from Jack. Admit it, you’d love to say the sort of stuff he says in this movie, even just for one day.
My Left Foot
Director: Jim Sheridan
The story of the childhood of Christy Brown, acclaimed Irish author and artist, born with cerebral palsy and written off by almost everyone except his family. I first watched this when I was at school and it made me ashamed of the attitudes I had to disability as a child and adolescent.
Hopefully, times have changed.
Director: Barry Levinson
Love them or loathe them as people and actors, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise deliver astonishing performances in this insight into autism. Personally, this is the movie that made me take Tom Cruise seriously as an actor.
It is hard to watch now and, at times, a little dated but it is still a great, great movie and deserving of the best actor Oscar for Hoffman.