Oliver Wolf Sacks, (9 July 1933 – 30 August 2015) was a neurologist, naturalist, historian of science, and author. Born in Britain, and mostly educated there, he spent his career in the United States. He believed that the brain is the “most incredible thing in the universe”. He became widely known for writing best-selling case histories about both his patients’ and his own disorders and unusual experiences, with some of his books adapted for plays by major playwrights, feature films, animated short films, opera, dance, fine art, and musical works in the classical genre. Sacks was a fearless explorer of unknown mental worlds who helped redefine our understanding of the brain and mind, the diversity of human experience, and our shared humanity.
A month after receiving a fatal diagnosis in January 2015, Oliver Sacks sat down for a series of filmed interviews in his apartment in New York City. OLIVER SACKS: HIS OWN LIFE explores the life and work of the legendary neurologist and storyteller, as he shares intimate details of his battles with drug addiction, homophobia, and a medical establishment that accepted his work only decades after the fact. Sacks was a fearless explorer of unknown mental worlds who helped redefine our understanding of the brain and mind, the diversity of human experience, and our shared humanity.
Ric Burns, the director of this movie describes his meeting with Sacks as follows ” We met a man who was 81, who had just finished an extremely self-revealing memoir talking about things which had been the hardest things, things he had assumed he would never talk about. He had just received a death sentence, and nothing quite focuses the mind like knowing your own mortality. To be staring death in the face, it was almost like the value of his life was on steroids. We found a man at the end of his life talking directly with humour, passion, and profound perspective and who had a unique accommodation of bashfulness, a tremendous kind of curiosity and wonder about himself, about other people, about the process of being alive.” Ric Burns is a critically acclaimed writer and director. Having won three Writers Guild Awards for his work, we can be sure about his accurate portrayal of Sack’s life.
According to the director, there is an overarching message that Oliver had and wanted to get across with this documentary ” In a sense his message was: we are all alike in our uniqueness and we are a tribe of irreducibly individual people linked by our connection to each other. That’s an incredible message to be carrying abroad in a life’s work. It is the definition of humanitarian and humane. People who are religious, agnostic, or atheist all share the mystery of life. Oliver’s message is how the mystery of life is profoundly affirming. Yes, there are challenges. Yes, some people suffer enormously, and that is sad and terrible. He wants to change, he wants to heal, but he also wants people to engage with reality. I think that that’s really what he knew his own message was. It was the message that his life inculcated in him, and what he wanted to share. You can call it religious or you can call it atheistic. It is an understanding that we are, all of us, individuals engaged in something larger than ourselves. The universe is a mystery, a joy, and it’s beautiful.”
Oliver Sacks: His Own Life is brought to us by Madman film.