Brain Injury Documentaries

A Different Brain: Louis Theroux Documentary Review

I’m a big Louis Theroux fan, I feel that he is the best documentary film maker and journalist of our time. If you asked me to review all of his stuff, I would give them 10/10. This is the reason I’ve been putting this review off because as someone living with a brain injury I don’t believe it’s 10/10.

He starts off with great intentions and says all the things someone with a brain injury can relate to:

• I’d been curious to get inside the experience of people whose bodies and minds have been radically altered

• Trying to find a place in lives that no longer seem their own

The second one especially.

This is the description for the documentary:

Louis takes a look at the issues that some of the estimated one million people in the UK living with the long-term effects of a brain injury have to deal with.

Louis spends time with staff and service users at the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust, one of the UK’s largest providers of neuro-behavioural rehabilitation, in an effort to understand how individuals and their families come to terms with this life-changing condition.

Often called a ‘hidden disability’ because those affected can show little physical signs of change, acquired brain injury results in enormous cognitive, behavioural and personality challenges. Those affected are left to reconstruct who they are – from relearning the basics of walking, talking and eating to redeveloping complex personality and behavioural traits, often in the shadow of who they once were. Family members are often caught between grieving for the loved one they have lost and learning to love the person they are now.

Don’t get me wrong it’s not a bad documentary, he raises awareness of brain injury and most of the factors that come along with it. However, I couldn’t help feeling a little bit disappointed after watching. He had talked only about severe cases and people living in rehab units. Brain injury awareness needs to go further than that—it needs to be shown through people who are living alone without help, struggling with day-to-day life, managing their hidden illnesses (such as fatigue, headaches and memory problems) and those who are in the public eye facing the loneliness and stigmatism of living with a hidden illness.

I feel that if he had met people like this then the public would be more aware. They would think more before they spoke, be patient, they would stare less, they would not judge your health on the way you look. The frustration of living with a brain injury and people saying “but you look so well!”. It’s sad that we still live in a world where people don’t think you’re ill unless you look ill.

People with hidden illnesses often wish they had a visible disability so people would take them more seriously.

This documentary had potential to be such a great form of awareness. I feel like it’s been forgotten about now—I mean it’s not everyday you go to a brain injury rehab unit/centre.

The people in it were a great form of awareness. There just needed to be more variety of severities so the the public could relate to them and be more aware. Louis’ Drinking to Oblivion documentary did this, thanks to Joe. The public kept saying “such a nice guy”, “could happen to any of us” and if they had this mindset for brain injury I feel people living with an injury would be treated with more care, patience and taken seriously with their hidden illnesses.

Below are some of the scenes that were particularly memorable and some of my thoughts about them.

“It looks like a war wound doesn’t it?”. I like that Louis went straight in with the shock factor. At this point we don’t know who this man is, yet we’ve seen one of the most personal things about him.

The most precious part of our human anatomy is also one of the most mysterious and damage to it can lead to unpredictable changes of ability and behaviour

The first person we meet is Earl who was involved in a fatal car crash 2 years ago where he sustained a serious head injury. He is now staying at Daniel Yorath House after being charged with death by dangerous driving. He was unfit to stand trial so had been given a supervision order overseen by the unit.

When Earl is showing him around his room, along with his doctor and mum Classic Louis steps in for a moment asking “Did you support arsenal before the brain injury?” I wonder how much Louis knew about brain injury before stepping into this. Maybe he just thought it was a personality change supporting a different team than before? Then we go on to learn that Earl has developed some sort of OCD which he didn’t have before, making us think that the Arsenal question was in fact a good question.

Earl explains that he had to learn to walk again, talk again and eat again—a simple yet shocking statement for those unaware of brain injury, especially as he looks normal/healthy. Earl’s mum then goes on to say once he was out of hospital he started to throw things around and get violent.

Following this Louis asks ‘‘After you’d got better physically there were these other things, erm to do with your behaviour and the way your brain was working that were still problems. Is that right?’” this was a great question as it is very common to not get help straight after your brain injury. I didn’t get help until 9 months after my injury. That is a long time, and with no one to tell you about what’s happening with your brain, your body and the changes it’s going through you think you’re better. When you realise you’re not it’s a massive blow and can sometimes slow down your recovery process.

Earl’s mum talks about how Earl is not her son anymore. He’s had a drastic personality change, “That’s Earl, but he’s got a different soul inside him. He’s a different person. He’s not Earl, his is Earl but he’s not’” Earl comes over and says, “I’m sorry it’s ok, I’m alive” to which she responds “I know you are you’re just a different person” it’s a bittersweet moment as Earl apologies even though he can’t help these changes and his mum explains she can’t help it. They both clearly love each other which makes it a hard scene to watch.

The effects of brain injury can be profound and sometimes include impulsiveness and even changes in personality

The next person we meet is Daniel. His personality change is over-friendliness. He talks about a few practical jokes he’s made. I couldn’t help but feel they were patronising him but at the same time they also made sense. Just like Earl he couldn’t help this as his injury was on his frontal lobe, the part of the brain that stops us doing things. Daniel then tells us that he was in a coma for a year and that he lost a quarter of his brain—its amazing to see how far he has come.

The next person we meet is Rob and his wife Amanda. She recently moved back in with her family after 2 years of living in residential rehab and has her own space which she can lock. Louis asks why and Rob says for privacy and for independence.

We learn that Amanda was a veterinary nurse before falling from a horse two years earlier. We see a photo of her before and the difference is shocking—especially for such a short period of time.


Louis asks why she wants her own space and what’s changed: “I don’t know really”. She makes a joke about not wanting to share her bed with someone who smells and Rob jokes back that she can’t smell. This scene is awkward to watch but when she explains that she wanted to live by herself with just her dogs and cats and without her kids you feel sad. She can’t live by herself as she needs 24/7 care and the only other option is a care home, which Rob is against as she’s only 38. She says that she wouldn’t have minded.

Louis asks if she feels like the same person—she says that she does. Rob doesn’t feel this however and says she’s not like the old Amanda.  That there are definite changes especially on the emotional side of it and he finds that quite hard. Her emotions are flat and he says she’s lost her squishy side to which she replies “mm-hmm”

As bad as this sounds, you can’t help but feel sorry for Rob. He obviously still loves her: “hey’ve been together for 22 years and have 2 children together”; he won’t just walk away. He seems to be trying so hard but she seems to be putting him down every time he speaks.

Louis then goes to a café with Daniel and his doctor which is where we discover Louis’ awkward smile when we learn about Daniel’s past. Usually Louis knows exactly what to say but for the first time he’s uncomfortable which is strange to see. He does it a few times more throughout the show.

We then meet Natalie who has been in rehab for 15 years. He asks what her injury was and she says she thinks she fell but can’t remember. She is very friendly and chatty. They say she is often inappropriate but she is warm and very caring, which is one of the reasons she won’t be able to leave as people outside would take advantage of her.

We learn that her brain injury was due to attempted suicide. She’s a type 1 diabetic and injected herself with too much insulin. She has completely forgotten this and even if they were to remind her every week she would still forget. It is shocking to hear—everyone but her knows the truth about her injury.

Louis visits Rob and Amanda 2 weeks later. The children and Rob explain that is has been hard as she can go from being really happy and nice to angry within seconds. One of the children says that mummy is an intruder. It seems like a very stressful environment for everyone except Amanda. “We have no husband and wife relationship anymore, there’s no cuddles, kissing, l love yous, anything like that. That’s gone. I can’t say to Amanda I’ve had a rough day at work, she’ll just shrug and say ‘And? What about me? I had a head injury’”. He wants to make it work, but I wonder how long he will keep trying.

Louis then meets up with Daniel again who expresses that he wants to move out and live independently but they don’t want him to as they feel he will slip up again. You can understand and see his frustration as he explains that was the past and the fears and concerns are going to be there tomorrow, next year, 10 years’ time, 20 years’ time…

They are basing their current thoughts on the past, how can they expect to see that he’s changed if they don’t give him a chance?

Louis asked some great questions and really covers the fact that people with a brain injury are constantly fighting with the person they used to be and the person they have become. He made me think more than I would have about my own brain injury and how it affects the loved ones around me.

He finishes with some great words about his time meeting people living with a brain injury:

  • I’d met people caught between old and new selves
  • The challenges they were engaged in was nothing less than to recreate themselves, with new limitations but also great possibility
  • Amid the range and unpredictability of the challenges faced by the people I’d met, I’d been pleased to find consolations, relationships that had become more difficult but which, because of that, were in many ways more rewarding’

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