The Man Who Was Born for the Seventh Time
The Man Whose Mind Exploded (2013), Documentary film by Toby Amies
Film review published online in Journal of Medical Humanities
This affectionate, unflinching gonzo documentary sees arts and travel presenter Toby Amies expand on his original Radio 4 programme from 2008 with the same title. In doing so and by bringing to screen this portrait of an eccentric, extraordinary man who lacks for short term memory, Amies has created the film that the self-styled Drako Oho Zarhazar was seemingly destined to star in.
With his shaven head, waxed moustache, tattoos and piercings; this caped and croc wearing septuagenarian definitely leaves a lasting visual impression. However, that only hints at what’s inside his cluttered, one bedroom flat, where much of the filming takes place. Here self-penned notes, old letters and homoerotic pornography dangle on countless strings creating a hectic, projected installation of his mind. With these hanging threads, ‘Drako’ remains connected to his past while Amies peers through them in wonder amongst the increasing disorder that surrounds them.
It’s poignant that a younger Drako would have no shortage of material to recount about a colourful life that included associations with the likes of Salvador Dali. Unfortunately, following two life-threatening brain injuries that have shattered his short-term memory, he is unable to recall daily events and only fragments from his recollected past remain. Thus, as well as documenting Drako in his “seventh life” on a Brighton council estate, the film also reveals universal themes about how brain injury can affect and threaten one’s personality and autonomy.
Although Drako insists that he lives “completely in the now”, interviews with his family demonstrate that the former dancer and interior designer can relate meaningfully with those he knows from his past. His sister even observes that whilst changed in character, the “damaged” Drako is more likeable though the family have also accepted that the risk of potential injury remains as constant a personal characteristic as his larger than life persona.
As interesting as The Man Whose Mind Exploded makes as a case study of brain injury, the film goes further by revealing the relationship between the two men. Whether a relationship is possible with an individual who can’t recall someone they’ve met repeatedly is another matter. Drako’s lack of capacity to provide reliable consent also poses ethical challenges for the first-time director beyond what is appropriate to record. These include when might it be necessary to intervene and even seek medical help due to the fluctuating health of his stubborn “star”. These exchanges of respectful but exasperated concern for his friend’s well-being will be familiar to many families and professionals who care for those with faltering cognitive faculties.
“Trust. Absolute. Unconditional” declares Drako as his motto whilst sat on Brighton’s pebbled, naturist beach and which he emphasises by pointing at the words that are permanently inked on his arm. It’s one of many repeated phrases and recollections that preserve his identity and prevent the past from becoming a stranger to him. Moments later that trust is most memorably demonstrated when filmmaker moves away from the camera and appears cheekily in frame to help his disrobed friend with rising to his feet.
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Tags: brain injury, Brighton, cognitive impairment, Documentary film, Drako Oho Zarhazar, Greg Neate, Journal of Medical Humanities, The Man Whose Mind Exploded, Toby Amies, Trust. Absolute. Unconditional