1/25/2019

ROMA: Bioethics and the Mobius Loop





                                         Production still compliments of Mill Valley Film Festival
                                         Alfonso Cuaron with actress Yalitza Aparicio

It is difficult to describe the number of ways that writer-director Alfonso Cuaron’s semi-biographical ROMA represents an Ichthian leap in cinema. There are no special effects to speak of, no costumes except at a New Year’s Eve party cum fire. To compare the film with the level of change that Italian Neorealism presented in the middle of the last century seems strident, yet true. Equally valid is the sense that this film represents the 7th Art at its best in both the creative and technical expression of cinema. There is not a super hero among them — but a sense of magic at the level of Murakami’s Wind Up Bird  Chronicle or Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle.  It is a universal film from the soul of a Spanish master.  
Written by a man, ROMA is defined by the relationships between three women and their children. There is little or no chatter—The movements, expressions and geography are left to tell the tale. The women are of three generations one an elderly woman sharing a home with her daughter and grandchildren. The daughter is approaching middle age, brilliant in her own right, and a mother of three. The daughter is also a wife, left distraught by a  middle class doctor-husband who has gone cad and ludicrous. Above all other characters rises their Indio maid/nannie, Cleo. Kept company by her roommate, Cleo  transcends everything poverty and servitude. If the Virgin of Guadalupe had corporal form, Cuaron proves it would be that of the actress Yalitza Aparicio whilst playing Cleo, during the turmoil of change in the cross cultural class and gender politics of 1970s Mexico.

The writing  of Roma itself leaps across any venial representations or stereotypes. Swaddled in black and white footage, in a giant  65 mm frame, with layered visual symbolism, ROMA is a breath taking journey. In a season competing with the best Marvel films yet made, and a year of the too close to call superior performances by women actors—What might have been a long shot, ROMA is brought by Netflix, sans color but luminous, decked with subtitles, and surpasses all as it flies over the moon.

Added to the visuals ROMA’s sound is extraordinary. Having seen the film at the Dolby Lab Screening Room (San Francisco) with echo-locating sound technology—the viewer becomes an adroit listener as though sharing a room with the characters. Voices move from the right, left or seemingly ahead of of the viewer.  Fair warning, the subsequent screening of other movies may leave you pining for that sensation of being in the midst of the action. You will crave auditory immersion in other films, less technically adroit,  long after seeing ROMA. 

Twenty is the number of  films I've seen since screening ROMA this past October, 2018. Images continue to drift back to me and make me sigh—when I see a bird fly, a dog bark, or a child cry. There is a purgatory of beauty whipped with pain which is the home where certain souls live. Like birth and death — ROMA closes a circle of which the viewer is unaware of being open until the break is sealed. That new poetic mobius loop, twisted between life and death, catapults ROMA into the realm of bioethics.  

Miyazaki, Hayao HOWL’s MOVING CASTLE https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0347149/




1/08/2019

Part II, A PRIVATE WAR: Bioethics meets the Guardians of Truth


Marie Colvin with Mike Wallace (CBS,60minutes) receiving the International Women in Journalism Award Media foundations in 2000.

Time Magazine designated “The Guardians of Truth,”  as its 2018 person of the year. The Guardians of Truth are journalists who risk it all to assure that those who might force their governments to make change have the information with which to guide their quest. Marie Colvin, the protagonist of  A PRIVATE WAR was a woman who notoriously defined the meaning of her life  and journalistic profession by her capacity, and that of her colleagues, to actualized Article 19 of the UDHR. (cf: A MIGHTY HEART). 

The United Nations is history’s best aim at the potential of human beings without the luxury of the naivety of a single generation’s overt success. Every document promoting human enlightenment, including the USA constitution, bears a statement supporting freedom of information. This is the result of the intuition that information is power and, without safeguards,  it will always be coveted by the most powerful to the detriment of the least. In precaution, The UDHR specifically states, in article 19 (of its 30), that:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.  

It is a principle by which  Colvin lived and for which she was prepared to die.  Even with that, Colvin verbalized personal and professional responsibility on occasions when she missed the boat. She famously admonished her profession for not seeing the writing on the wall in Rwanda. One million Rwandan Tutsis were killed in only 100 days from April to July in 1994.Virtually no journalist understood and responded until too late.  Whether or not the world would do something about the massacre of innocents if made aware— Colvin knew that they certainly would not have the choice if they knew nothing of the offending incidents. This is because sans information, informed decisions cannot be made by individuals or societies. 

Shortly after in 1949 the Geneva Conventions were signed. Most of those atrocities were manifest using the technology which was created by scientist. In this way, the guardians of truth are not only journalist but those who understand science and its potential applications. The Syrian Journalists' Association (also members of the IFJ) has documented 153 journalists killed, in that country,  since the uprisings of 2011 which lead to the defection of  soldiers from the Syrian army in protest of the governments repressive regime. Among the journalist killed in Syria were American journalists Jim Sokol and James Foley in 2014, by beheading. In 2016, a United Nations official said 400,000 people had been killed in first five years of the Syrian civil war—the vast majority being noncombatants. At the time of this writing the president of the USA claims an unsubstantiated victory in Syria against ISIS and says he plans to pull  US troops out of the  country. 

As of March 2018, Lyn Maalouf, the Middle East research director for Amnesty International has stated that the "International community's catastrophic failure to take concrete action to protect the people of Syria has allowed parties to the conflict most notably the Syrian government to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity with complete impunity, often with the assistance of outside powers."

Since 2012 when journalist Marie Colvin was intentionally targeted by the government of Syria, through transmissions from her satellite phone, the International Federation of journalist (IFJ) reports that more than 600 journalist have been killed around the world. Nine in 10 cases remain unpunished. Hundreds of journalist are imprisoned. 

Daily journalist are attacked, beaten, detained, harassed and threatened. Among women journalist surveyed in the 600,000 member IFJ, 24% have suffered physical attacks while working. Before those us in the USA shake their heads at the state of suppression of the press abroad, we must note that the US Present Freedom Tracker, since its launch in 2017, has documented 220 press freedom violations involving journalist and reporters have taken place in the USA.

Mathew  Heineman’s film pushes a  new audience of viewers to experience the world through journalist Marie Colvin’s eyes, emotions and suffering. She is not depicted as a superhero but a woman with flaws and scars who believed she could make a difference if she could get people to listen. A PRIVATE WAR adds  to Colvin’s enduring legacy and  reached out to those free to recognize and commit to protection of the most vulnerable victims of war. For Bioethicist and those who try to understand it, A PRIVATE WAR is a  “must see.”  The film is not only about a woman, or journalist but about an idea that that protects innocent third parties.

Part 1 A Private War: Bioethics meets the Guardians of Truth





A PRIVATE WAR had its USA premiere the opening night of the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF42) October 4, 2018. The screening was prior to Time Magazine having designated “The Guardians of Truth,”  as its 2018 person of the year— and before the targeted killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Turkish Saudi Arabian embassy. Acclaimed documentarian Director Mathew Heineman’s supposed biopic focuses on the  life, career and death of  US born war correspondent for the London Sunday Times, Marie  Colvin. Surprisingly, Heineman has chosen to re-tool his award winning considerable documentary skills to create this, his first narrative film. A PRIVATE WAR is many things, a Hollywood mirror biopic not being among them. Instead, this screen work is a  gift of reality wrapped in art.

Marie  Colvin was killed in Homs, Syria, in 2012— during the second year of the Syrian civil war. This war still continues at this writing and is key to the undeclared World War raging in the Middle East with players from multiple nations beyond the region. Dying along with Marie was the acclaimed French freelance photojournalist Rémi Ochlik. For nearly thirty years  Colvin had covered the “Middle Eastern War beat.”  Her reports uniquely defined the inhumanity of war while she herself role-modeled a hard boiled compassion, accuracy and truth.  She focused on the rights of civilians trapped in the cross-fires of hell on earth. An autopsy conducted in Damascus by the Syrian government concluded Marie Colvin was killed by an “improvised explosive device filled with nails.”  These are the facts but there is more to the film. 

Heineman’s film begins with the image of  a decimated house, in the demolished city of Homs where  thousands and Colvin died. It is so haunting  that the viewer should be forewarned that it will wrench you from your sleep months after the screening. You will scramble to play catch up. The film asks the viewer to choose… “What side are you on?”  Weeks later you will try to understand the history of how the wars in Chechnya, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Iran Libya  Sri Lanka, East Timor and Syria became part of the same war — the war were the most vulnerable, the noncombatants, are used as cannon fodder over near a century. 

Photojournalist Paul Conroy was injured in the attack that took Marie and Remi. He survived to provide context to his colleagues’ final hours.  Crazy with purpose, Colvin had used  her satellite phone to speak—one last time—the truth of the devastation of the civilian population of  Syria. Six years later, in 2018 a Syrian Forces defectors testimony was unsealed by a USA court. The document presented evidence that the forces of Assad, the president of Syria, locked into the slain  Colvin’s phone transmission to target and kill her.  

It is a visually gritty, granular polluted air Colvin breaths. Visually, A PRIVATE WAR ends with that same decimated ruin in Homs where it begins. So why is a film whose story begins and ends in the same place worth telling in yet another way? It is, after all, a story that has been told in documentary filmmagazine articles and in books elsewhere.  Importantly, much of the script is adapted from an interview by Marie Brenner with Marie in Vanity Fair magazine.  That is-- the perspective of the film derives from the war journalist herself telling the world parts of her own story. Therein lay the value. 

Screenwriter Arash Amel’s work was challenging because it is not from the perspective of an onlooker. We know what  Colvin said —because she said it. But how do you show the vulnerability and sometimes confusion she felt? If the purpose of the film was to leave her feeling, not chronological data, the work has succeeded. Context takes a back seat to the main characters reflection of her times at a given moment. 

“Biopic’ is a misnomer —  A PRIVATE WAR is a memoir. You jump geography and timeframes. Strangers appear without announcement of names or titles — as they do in one’s own memory. If we can’t tell why the scene is there  by Pikes performance — shame on us. The burden of Heineman’s complex film is absolutely carried by the power of Academy Award® nominee Rosamund Pike’s portrayal of Marie Colvin.  Pike channels Kate Hepburn, in a role the silver screen actress never played. The  performance is no less astounding for the uncanny likeness to miles of available film and sound footage of the slain reporter. Heineman allows Pike to express the pain and suffering in Colvin’s aging battered body, in her womanhood rattled love,  and  journalistic commitment to truth.  

But all is not dour. Pike’s Colvin masterfully conveys the physical comedy of facial expression as an irascibility when the character jokes. This heightens the contrast when actor also brings an exquisite  portrayal of a body and mind racked with tragedy. The accuracy of the performance even includes the slight imbalance of gait in the mono-optic, eye patch wearing Colvin—whose distant traumatic brain injury had resulted in a lost dominant eye. By allowing Pike to dive deeply into the body of the woman she portrays, Heineman delivers the character’s inner voice.  You can’t write or tell this stuff in words. 

A PRIVATE WAR is not a film for the faint, or even exhausted of heart. The actor’s task was to flip the character’s insides to the outside. Even laughing, Pike’s  Colvin is always only a tear drop away from being left naked and exposed to the devastations of war, post traumatic stress, and survivor guilt. The audience receives the same, as if from a ricocheting bullet.

For more, see Part II of A PRIVATE WAR: Bioethics meets Guardians of Truth at http://www.bioethicsscreenreflections.com







9/21/2018

THE WIFE and Bioethics

THE WIFE PART I:  Bioethics, Breaking Oaths, and Stockholm Syndrome

This week I saw two films that were about the theft of creative property. One of the films was THE WIFE and the other THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER. Peculiarly, in each case the stealing is linked to a profound purgatorial love for another character. This is not the way one typically thinks of plagiarism. 

THE WIFE, stars Glenn Close and Johnathan Pryce playing a long married couple, Joan and Joe Castleman. They are thrown into a circumstance that brings on a full throttle life review , the type that  people need as they move into their later years — a great adventure backward. The intimacy of those years does not wain but has an intensity that leaves the viewer waiting for the other shoe to drop.

There is a first grandchild on the way. Their twenty-something son seeks his own creative path from beneath the shadow of his famous literary giant of a father and— we think— shrinking personality of his mother. This is a story of  two writers whose lives, children and work are so immeshed that it has allowed them to sublimate the truth that they are neither one intellect nor a single spirit. 

At first, the soft beauty of a New England landscape in early winter lures us  into the family romance of the film couples’ enduring love affair. Then, the stark early winter of Stockholm, with its block architecture and grid format streets is quickly unsettling. The dialog written by Jane Anderson and based on the novel The Wife by Meg Wolitzer is delivered like bread crumbs trailing to the climax not of a melodrama but a riveting suspense.

Close’s portrayal of Joan, the wife, is magnificent in its simplicity. The actress creates a woman who  keeps her cards so near her chest  that  she seems to have forgotten they are there. But, the audience hunches forward in anticipation. Joan’s stoicism is contrasted with the eccentricities of her husband’s faded sexiness, as he pushes 80, while still trying to philander. Clearly, director Bjorn Runge’s bent toward mystery— and veteran stars capable of taking direction so well they reach beyond the stratosphere— brings this “little movie” into the arena of the grande—maybe even the grandest. 

And for Bioethicists? It’s an exploration of  the role of life review in relationships and health. The simplicity of copyright handling intellectual property dissolves into a bioethical concern momentous as the complexities of creative threads which spawn a finished art work. The film is  a teasing apart of strands. It is dizzying enough to drive one to split the baby in half to redistribute its parts. 

Just when you can barely tolerate the high pitched squill of this marriage between Joan and Joe a moment longer, the darn string ruptures. We are left wondering how and why people get themselves tangled in such clearly toxic webs.  Oddly, I found the answer to  that question while considering the film the KINDERGARTEN TEACHER.  That is Part II of this exchange — on Bioethics, Breaking Oaths and Stockholm Syndrome.  


The Wife Official Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d81IM0loH7o

Celia Jameson (2010) The “Short Step” from Love to Hypnosis: A Reconsideration of the Stockholm Syndrome, Journal for Cultural Research, 14:4, 337-355, DOI: 10.1080/14797581003765309












8/19/2018

Bioethics and No Mas Bebes

Madrigal v. Quilligan:Forced Sterilization of Hispanic Women at LA County Hospital

Lack of appropriate informed consent is historically the most common bioethical violation in medical, research and other settings. The history of bioethics is replete with such examples.  Among those examples is the forced sterilization of Hispanic, Black and other vulnerable women. 

Given the recent events where the United States Immigration and Custom Enforcement service separated Hispanic parents from their children at the USA-Mexico border, the film, No Mas Bebes is particularly poignant. This theft of children showed complete disregard for the Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. It seems appropriate to recall the depths of disregard for Hispanic women and children that has been shown at other times in recent USA history. Listening to the rationalizations of men empowered by medicine for the heinous acts describe in No Mas Bebes is chilling -- but so very familiar with events in our current times

In the 1970s, at Los Angeles-County Hospital, the University of Southern California Obstetrics and Gynecology services systematically sterilized Latina and Black women. Film director Renee Tajima-Peña and producer Virginia Espino have created the definitive documentation of major medical sterilization of those women under the guise of therapeutic privilege. The 2015 award winning film No Más Bebés  tells the story of a little-known but landmark event in reproductive justice. 

A small group of Mexican American immigrant women, on behalf of a much larger class, sued the state of California, and the US federal government after they were sterilized while giving birth at Los Angeles County–USC Medical Center. The violations occurred during the late 1960s and early 1970s where such events had become common. The filmmakers’ statement explains, “Marginalized and fearful, many of these mothers spoke no English, and charged that they had been coerced into tubal ligation.,” during the late stages of labor.

The No Más Bebés production spent five years tracking down sterilized mothers and witnesses of the bioethical violations at Los Angeles County Hospital. Those violations occurred under the direction of the University of Southern California division of Obstetrics and Gyneocology. 

Most of the women abused were reluctant at first to come forward, but ultimately agreed to tell their painful stories. Set against a debate over the impact of Latino immigration and perceived overpopulation by university physicians, and the birth of a movement for Chicana rights and reproductive choice, No Más Bebés revisits a powerful story racism and sexism that still resonates today.

The forced sterilization of Hispanic Women at USC-LA County Hospital coincided with the book the 'Population Bomb'.  The footage of several physicians involved in the 1970s lawsuit was chilling and referenced that book. In the film, shot 40 years later, some clinicians interviewed  maintained that they were "helping the Hispanic women by sterilizing them." Most of the women plaintiffs in the law suit were unaware that they had undergone tubal ligations unlit the legal challenge was mounted. These Latina mothers had only known that they were no longer able to have additional babies. Many became depressed and felt inadequate. 

The wronged Latina mothers’ cause was taken up by a then recently admitted to the California Bar, attorney Antonia Hernandez. She was armed with hospital records secretly gathered by the whistle-blowing Dr. Bernard Rosenfeld. Rosenfeld’s moral intuition was peaked by eyebrow raising events witnessed while on Obsterics & Gynecology rotation at Los Angeles County Hospital. In their landmark 1975 civil rights lawsuit, Madrigal v. Quilligan,  the women argued that a woman’s right to bear a child, as well as not to, is guaranteed under the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade.

The Madrigal v. Quilligan case was lost by the women who had been sterilized. However, when the United States Public Health Service Syphilis Study case—Pollard v. the United States—was settled in favor of the plaintiffs, the state of California immediately passed legislation upholding the doctrine of informed consent.

No Maas Bebe's http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/no-mas-bebes/ 

Stern, Alexandra, M. Sterilized in the Name of Public Health. Race, Immigration, and Reproductive Control in Modern California. Am J Public Health. 2005 July; 95(7): 1128–1138. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1449330/

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
 

The declaration of the Rights of a Childhttps://www.unicef.org/malaysia/1959-Declaration-of-the-Rights-of-the-Child.

Parts of this article are found in the book by Williams, S. and Mothers' Milk Bank San Jose, The Elephant in the Room: Bioethical Concerns in Human Milk Banking  available
 09 /2018.




2/05/2018

THE SHAPE OF WATER: Bioethics, Surrealism, Personhood & Environmental Justice

January 24, 2018








THE SHAPE OF WATER set up is highly character driven. A mute Hispanic woman janitor, her Black woman colleague suffering a bad marriage, a gay unemployed artist, and a Sadist walk into a Cold War bunker. It could have been the beginning of a bad joke. Instead, it is the start of an amazing work of postmodern surrealist film.

 If we consider surrealism, as Andre Breton suggests, to be an attempt to reconcile the simultaneous existence of the awake and sleep states—THE SHAPE OF WATER is a poster child for that movement. The phenomenon applies to characters as well as the movie’s viewers. Visually, THE SHAPE OF WATER contrasts a hypnogogic state with harsh reality. Scenes are often in a gritty nightmarish Cold War industrial military bunker. In the bunker dangerous ‘isms’ compete for ranking—fascism, racism, sexism, and classism are all at play. A visually serene fantasy world exist beyond the bunker’s locked doors. It is a place where old Hollywood musical choreographies hold key product placement territory. Anything can happen and does. Those entitled to hatred by persecution for any number of reasons, choose love instead.

The relationships between the living beings in that outer realm defy all the conventions of the time, history, environment and evolution. There is one exception, the convention of ‘Villain’ has no wiggle room for alteration. He is just an unadulterated evil.

The theatrical ensemble is remarkable—Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Dough Jones are among them. There is not much else to say other than be prepared to watch the awards roll in.

 THE SHAPE OF WATER feels like a sequel to Del Toro’s earlier film, PAN’S LABYRINTH. But, there are differences. While the current work is a cross genre piece which traverses cultures, the earlier movie is culture locked. PAN, and the girl for whom he provided escape, lived in the confines of the rise of Francoists. The politic is physicalized by an archaic estate operated by the girl’s fascist stepfather. THE SHAPE OF WATER set realizes many different types of signifying characters from multiple cultural and economic backgrounds. The time period is the USA Cold War. In both THE SHAPE OF WATER, and PAN’S LABYRINTH, the “monsters” are supposedly human, but it is they who actually give monsters a bad name.

Why is the SHAPE OF WATER not just another “Beauty and the Beast” but worthy of bioethical consideration? This is not a medical movie though it is a scathing rebuke of the forces that thwart good science. At stake in the SHAPE OF WATER is the personhood of all the characters in our previously depicted Cold War bar joke. Dignity, a state of the healthy intelligent mind, is carried about by the body. Abuse the body, abuse the dignity. Malign the body, malign the dignity. Remove the dignity, remove the personhood. By this reasoning, restoration of dignity in large part means protection of the body from torture and other forms of abuse. That protection is requisite, though not always sufficient for the reclamation of personhood. One never knows what is most effective until one tries. It is the organized beneficence of trying to ‘do good,’ tempered by autonomy, in order to render equipoise and justice, which ought to be delivered by bioethical consideration.

This film helps explore the aforementioned cascade. In Del Toro’s hands, the ominous danger and political distrust manifest in science fiction shifts toward fantasy. The mystery, myth and truth escape of those most vulnerable to the abuse of dignity, because of their bodies, is fully manifest in The SHAPE OF WATER. The process of the film dissolves disability into strength. In the tradition of super heroes, Del Toro’s SHAPE OF WATER sheds the horn-rimmed glasses and neck ties of its characters so they leap, fly or swim into their own made magic. THE SHAPE OF WATER is technically exquisite. This film is one to watch on as large a screen as you can afford.

The Shape of Water annotation http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5580390/
Pan’s Labyrinth annotation http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457430/

3/05/2017

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN

My Love Affair With the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond (clip) from Luna Productions on Vimeo.

TV Screenings and Viewing options for  MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN: 

SOME TV SCREENINGS:
My Love Affair with the Brain will screen in the San Francisco Bay Area On TV,  
March 22, Wed., 8 pm on KQED9 Plus the following7 other times (note that KQED9 is a different channel than KQED WORLD, etc.)·  
KQED World: Fri, Mar 10, 2017 -- 6:00am ·  
KQED World: Fri, Mar 10, 2017 -- 12:00pm ·  
KQED 9: Thu, Mar 23, 2017 -- 2:00am ·  
KQED Plus: Fri, Mar 24, 2017 -- 3:00pm ·  
KQED World: Sun, Mar 26, 2017 -- 2:00pm ·  
KQED Life: Tue, Mar 28, 2017 -- 9:00pm·  
KQED Life: Wed, Mar 29, 2017 -- 3:00am

PURCHASE: MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN  is  available for ACADEMIC PURCHASE (Libraries, Colleges, Schools.) http://lunaproductions.com/buy-love-affair-brain-marian-diamond/individuals: http://lunaproductions.com/personal-use-dvd-my-love-affair-with-the-brain/

Part I: MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN Bioethics, Neuroplasticity and Whimsy

Marian Diamond portraits, 1984, photos by Ed Kash

Dr. Marian Diamond, photo courtesy of Luna Productions

Dr. Marian Diamond, photo courtesy of Luna Productions

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN is an award winning documentary about the life and work of Dr. Marian Cleeves Diamond, PhD, neuroanatomist, researcher and educator. Filmmakers Catherine Ryan and Gary Weinberg (Luna Productions) make an argument which by all reasonable standards would support Diamond’s candidacy for a Nobel Prize, not only in science but also for peace. 

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN shows Marian Diamond is a filmmakers dream. She is fluid and animated as anyone who routinely spends hours of her day on a stage before a judging audience of hundreds of students ought to be—but often are not. The camera loves her. With aesthetic wisdom the film not only focuses on Marian but on others sharing the territory she inhabits. It is a broad domain of geography, mind and family tradition. She is a catalyst for laughter fueled intelligence.

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN has established an iconic visual representation of Dr. Diamond’s vantage. It is the long view and the long shot. In Diamond’s mind the brain is always at the forefront, the seat of human intelligence and humanity. It is this view that Luna Production’s camera reflects in the film. We see Diamond watch the brain, from a distance but in sharp focus. Then we see the audience, and the world, watch her. The  filmmakers take the opportunity to not only show us her but the joyous reactions of others ignited in the wake of her whimsy. 

The lightness of Marian Diamond’s ‘being,’ is even reflected in Ryan and Weinberg’s choice of narrator for MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN,  Mayim Bialik. Bialik holds a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA but also plays a neuroscientist on TV’s BIG BANG THEORY. 

Marian Diamond is a scientist who is also a woman. She came up through a period when women did not teach in academia. Well qualified and well suited to lecturing she may have never have found that passion were it not for the persecution of her employer and mentor while working at Cornell University. That professor was fired during the rise of the witch-hunt of McCarthyism in the 1950s. However, the professor’s parting shot was to recommend the only person he knew could, and should, take his lectern— a woman, Marian Diamond,PhD. And so, at that University, Diamond became the first woman science lecturer in its history. 

Marian Diamond did not mean to dismantle archaic science with new truths, she’s just made that way—a fact to which she is not oblivious. Her youth and adult life has been filled with brilliant scientist husbands, mother, father and free thinking siblings first then her own children. She did not only study dead brains as specimens, but watched the living ones around her. They were all collaborators and conspirators in her quest to understand.

Dr. Marian Diamond’s major scientific contributions are generally divided into three: discovery of the impact of the environment on brain development; differences between the cerebral cortex of male and female rats independent of sex hormones; and the likely link between positive thinking—or happiness—in maintaining individuals immunological health reflected in brain tissue and function. Rigorous scientific inquiry often divides domains of investigation of a single entity. But Dr. Marian Diamond’s hallmark is: that which others might think static she suspects is mobile, multifaceted, unified though plastic—and when needs be— able to be remodeled.


PART II: MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN Bioethics and Meaning Derived from Science


Catherine Ryan and Gary Weinberg’s documentary film MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN shows Dr. Marian Cleeves Diamond, PhD is not only a theoretical scientist but also an applied one. The Nuremberg Code—the rules for research conduct arising from the Nuremberg trials—has ten points. The second of those ten is that: Experiments should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods or means of study, and not random and unnecessary in nature. Dr. Diamond’s scientific integrity at the work bench has yielded a change in how we view human capacity. 

Luna Productions film shows a field clinic on brain growth, Diamond’s project, Enrichment in Action. It uses findings of the doctor’s brain enrichment research to directly benefit impoverished, orphaned children. In Cambodia a group of children are provided with an environment fortified with supplementary vitamins, language skills, computer lessons, and promotion of the children’s wider social acceptance. She has been facilitating, watching and documenting those children’s growth over years. 

There are multiple other clinical applications to the insights of brain malleability derived from Marian Diamond’s work. In the not too distant past, medical students were routinely taught that only a tenth of the cerebral cortex (the heaviest part of the brain) was actively used. The implication was that if brain cells were lost that portion of the brain’s function was permanently diminished. The observation that nurture, as well as abuse, can alter brain function through structural change—is among neuroanatomist Marian Diamond’s major contributions to scientific history. That truth defines a choice to be made, by humanity, about how we can proceed, as individuals and a group. We either promote brain health or we do not. 

The idea of the mind-body complex evolved in western culture more slowly than in others. After time in China, Kenya and Australia, Dr. Diamond’s paradigm expanded even the Mind-Body complex to include the significance of the brain as a switching station—validating a Mind-Brain-Body complex as it were. Science at its best over turns old beliefs with new information. There are many applied applications to Diamond’s science. Clinicians now see their tasks as recruiting brain cells and promoting their growth and function within the window of best opportunity to promote neuro-plasticity, or brain flexibility. This is as important in maximizing function after any neurological insult like stroke or traumatic brain injury, dementia or aging—as it is in early childhood development. 

Those recently experiencing the birth of a baby in a hospital may notice that policy has shifted so that mothers and babies are no longer easily separated in the first moments after delivery. We now know that immediate breast feeding is essential for best growth and development of infants brains, and also prevention of chronic disease later in life for children and their mothers. These phenomena are in part nutritional but also the effect of early bonding—nurture. 

There is a story told by a friend who was sitting for days to become a Buddhist Priest. It was arduous. On her brief breaks she would light a stick of incense at the window. Doubting that she may have chosen the wrong direction for her existence she asked the universe for a sign. Just then a magnificent shooting star crossed her eye-line. Then she wondered, ‘But what does it mean?’ This is the quandary of both life and science.  

Marian Diamond has written, “The greatest thrill in my life up to that moment was when I held my first newborn child in my arms against my breast. I knew why I existed.” That child was born in immediate proximity  to Dr. Diamond’s completion of her PhD, in 1953. Though her life’s work was set at that time it would take decades to realize its meaning. 

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN spreads the word not only about what Dr. Diamond’s research has been but what it means. Diamond has summarized her take home lessons from her 60 years in brain research. She believes all the signs lead to the idea that brain health is dependent on five things, diet, exercise, challenge, newness, and love.


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