TV Review: Louis Theroux: A Different Brain (UK, 2016) is an emotionally poignant documentary

One of Louis Theroux’s more emotionally poignant documentaries, A Different Brain highlights the incredibly difficult struggles families face when their loved one’s cease to function as they once were.

In watching Louis Theroux’s latest documentary to hit the small screen, it becomes quite difficult to not become overly ecstatic with joy. The man is a master of his craft, having spent decades in the investigative journalism field. With a library of over 50 unique and critically acclaimed documentaries that he has both produced and starred in to his name, it is no question that Louis knows his way around a well-built documentary. He is what reality television should have always been, and what many other shows hope to one day become. His latest look into the trials and tribulations of us a species is no different.

A Different Brain however, stands apart from much of Louis’ other work in that it reaches a heart-wrenching emotional level that so few subject matter could only hope to reach. In the 50 minutes Louis presents to the viewer, we are welcomed into the lives of four different families, all coping with the same strained relationship of caring for someone who has suffered serious brain trauma. While each had a different life and story before the head trauma, the outcomes are ultimately one and the same, with each living as a shadow of their former selves.

What makes A Different Brain such a difficult watch however is the illustration of the squandered potential that all the individuals once possessed and have now lost. Earl for instance, was on his way to becoming a top chef within the UK. Now he can’t even cook his own breakfast. Another, Natalie, once an artist, now struggles to write and draw. Basic emotions are also inhibited, with the typical loving family relationships now absent, or so badly demented that it is no longer recognizable from what it once was.

In having suffered these serious injuries, many of society’s self-created boundaries are additionally lost to those injured, with each having no ability to determine what should or shouldn’t be considered “polite” or “annoying”, with many not holding back on their true emotions Recovery is of course, the main goal here. However, as Louis takes us deeper into these people’s lives, it becomes abundantly clear that full recovery will never really be possible.

It’s devastating to witness just how unaware these people are of the damage has been done to them. All four see their injuries as some sort of “knock on the head” that hasn’t really changed them or their personality. The reality of the situation however becomes more and more distinct as the documentary progresses, with each demonstrating clear signs that without the constant care of family and friends, their lives would ultimately fall apart.

Arguably, the most terrifying factor that can be taken away from watching this raw documentary, is that possibility of falling victim to serious brain trauma is a reality in which everyone lives. From driving home from work or performing physical labour, to more menial tasks such as walking the dog or even taking a shower, no one will ever be able to escape the possibility of this happening to them.

Louis Theroux understands this, and in realizing so, does his best to illustrate how these awful occurrences have the potential to happen to regular run-of-the-mill people. In any case, A Different Brain provides plenty of food for thought in what is another emotionally thought-provoking drama beautifully presented by Louis Theroux.


Louis Theroux: A Different Brain will see its television debut in Australia on Foxtel’s BBC Knowledge on October 11th at 8.30pm, as part of a month long season of new Theroux documentaries – the first of which kicks off tonight!


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