Film Review: ‘The Man Whose Mind Exploded’


Descartes believed that nothing ever existed, that everything his mind told him was a lie, and cinema is of course a standing recourse for memory and the unresolved tensions that plague the unconscious. Film’s representation of loss and the yearning chasm for its fulfilment trumps all other attempts at Socratic discourse within other art forms. Maybe it’s the flickering layers of doubt and presence that enables us to concurrently exist in the here and now while mentally searching for our past within the confines of our memories. In Toby Amies’ The Man Whose Mind Exploded (2012), we observe the growing friendship between seventysomething Drako Oho Zarhazar and his visual amanuensis.

Over four years we sit with Amies in a cavernous flat where has ever exited or escaped; walls lined with images of beautiful young men with erections in the place of knowing smiles and hanging gardens of notes that stand in for forget-me-nots. To describe him is to sully his hard fought sense of self but he is best seen (and never forgotten), let us just say he’s akin to what Kenneth Anger should look like but doesn’t. Drako is what can be banally titled a ‘character’, but the phrase in and of itself doesn’t even touch the sides of his effervescent unknowing. Much preferable is the idea that he evokes an idea of himself unencumbered by a morality socially engineered by his less than equals. Motorcyclist, dancer, homosexual, nudist, fetishist, drug dealer and personal muse to the great and the good.

Oliver Sacks, in his book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, proclaimed that, “Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.” Sacks seems to have defined a truism both of cognitive thought and Drako himself. Being in his presence reminds us what awaits for lonely bohemians as they approach the light at the end of the circular existential joke. Nobley he stands outside of societies constraints in his cramped Brighton council house that exists in a form of chaotically constructed mess that is at once individual and a living breathing diary of orgasmic release instilled in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club: “You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”

Not that Drako appears unhappy with his lot, but rather the opposite: he revels in new experiences and people, for he has anterograde amnesia – a rare brain disorder that has left him unable to form new memories. This may or may not have been enabled by the two comas – one for nine years – he fell into after traffic accidents. This isn’t a wallowing tale that focuses on the topic of the director’s manic raging eye akin to 19th century day trips to Bedlam, but a touching evocation of a cross-generational friendship that flowers in front of our eyes. By the end, The Man Whose Mind Exploded does explore everyone’s unique exit strategy; we gather a sense of dual loss, firstly of Drako and that of Amies’ himself, for the end brings closure to a life lived and an inversion of Descartes’ statement that he wanted to live in peace and to continue a life begun under the motto “to live well you must live unseen”.

D.W. Mault