A First Look at The Animated Mind of Oliver Sacks, a Feature-Length Journey Into the Mind of the Famed Neurologist

“Every day a word sur­pris­es me,” famed neu­rol­o­gist Oliv­er Sacks once told Bill Hayes, with whom he spent the final six years of his life. The com­ment came “apro­pos of noth­ing oth­er than that a word had sud­den­ly popped into his head,” writes Hayes in a recent New York Times piece on Sacks’ love of lan­guage. “Often this hap­pened while swim­ming — ‘ideas and para­graphs’ would devel­op as he back­stroked, after which he’d rush to the dock or pool’s edge to get the words down on paper — as Dempsey Rice has cap­tured in an enchant­i­ng forth­com­ing film, The Ani­mat­ed Mind of Oliv­er Sacks.” You can get a glimpse of that film, and its por­tray­al of Sacks’ habit of get­ting ideas while swim­ming, in the trail­er above.

“In 1982 I wrote a sec­tion of A Leg to Stand On” — his mem­oir of his expe­ri­ence recov­er­ing from a moun­taineer­ing acci­dent that left him with­out aware­ness of his left leg — “by a lake.” We watch his ani­mat­ed form mak­ing its way across the water in cap and speedo, a wake of words trail­ing behind them.

After the swim, “drip­ping, I would write.” We then see James Sil­ber­man, then pres­i­dent and edi­tor at Sum­mit Books, read­ing Sacks’ hand­writ­ten, still-sog­gy man­u­script. The sog­gi­ness might be artis­tic license, but the hand­writ­ten-ness was­n’t: Sil­ber­man “wrote me back say­ing, did I think this was the 19th cen­tu­ry? No one has sent him a man­u­script for thir­ty years. And besides, this one looked like it had been dropped in the bath.”

So maybe the ani­ma­tors did­n’t get quite as cre­ative draw­ing those pages as it might seem, but they still must have had to get cre­ative indeed to keep up with Sacks him­self, a decade of whose con­ver­sa­tions with Rice pro­vide the film’s nar­ra­tion. “Oliv­er saw his patients as whole peo­ple, rather than iso­lat­ed dis­or­ders,” she says by way of explain­ing what made Sacks’ books, like Awak­en­ingsThe Man Who Mis­took His Wife for a Hat, and many more besides, so res­o­nant with read­ers the world over. “He was­n’t afraid to open­ly inquire of the patient with autism or amne­sia, ‘What is it like to be you?’ ” The Ani­mat­ed Mind of Oliv­er Sacks fin­ished a suc­cess­ful Kick­starter cam­paign in July, but you can still donate and keep up with release details at its offi­cial site. As a view­ing expe­ri­ence, it should con­firm what read­ers have long sus­pect­ed: though they come for a look into the unusu­al minds of Oliv­er Sacks’ patients, they stay to inhab­it the even more unusu­al mind of Oliv­er Sacks.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Fas­ci­nat­ing Case Study by Oliv­er Sacks Inspires a Short Ani­mat­ed Film, The Lost Mariner

Oliv­er Sacks Explains the Biol­o­gy of Hal­lu­ci­na­tions: “We See with the Eyes, But with the Brain as Well”

This is What Oliv­er Sacks Learned on LSD and Amphet­a­mines

Oliv­er Sacks Con­tem­plates Mor­tal­i­ty (and His Ter­mi­nal Can­cer Diag­no­sis) in a Thought­ful, Poignant Let­ter

Oliv­er Sacks’ Final Inter­view: A First Look

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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