I knew very little about Oliver Sacks other than he was the doctor Robin Williams’s character in Awakenings is based on. I also knew a couple of his other books, like The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. So this was an enormous pleasure to watch and learn from.
Oliver Sacks: His Own Life is a biographical documentary, following both his life and work. He’s a man of many contradictions, or perhaps contradictions to expectations. On one hand he’s this fastidious little Jewish doctor from the Golders Green area of London, with a suitable beard, spectacles and clipped accent. On the other hand, he arrives in the States in the 60s looking like a Tom of Finland pin-up, driving to work on his motorbike, chomping his cigar, and stuffing his hulking muscles under a white coat. He becomes a weight-lifting champion to overcome his crippling shyness, yet he is extraordinarily frank about intimate things at times. He’s funny and gentle and has this unique ability to gain insight and understanding with people whose conditions radically impede their ability to communicate, yet he’s unable to form adult romantic relationships, and spends 35 years celibate.
This is a lovely film that kind of talks about our exploration of what consciousness means, of our indebtness to those with neurological conditions for our understanding of the human condition, of an appeal to the value of all human beings and all ways of seeing and experiencing the world, which are all unique.