Oliver Sacks: His Own Life

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life

Sloan Foundation Film

Release Date

2019

Director

  • Ric Burns

Awards

  • 2017 Sloan Foundation grant

A documentary exploring the life of neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks—an old-fashioned polymath and natural historian who redefined our understanding of brain and mind.

On January 15th, 2015, a few weeks after completing his memoir, the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks learned that the rare form of cancer for which he had been treated seven years earlier had returned, and that he had only a few months to live. One month later, he sat down with the producers for a series of marathon filmed interviews in his apartment in New York. For eighty hours, across five days in February – and on three more occasions in April and June in places in the Bronx – surrounded by family and friends, books and minerals, notebooks from six decades of thinking and writing about the brain, he talked about his life and work, his dreams and fears, his abiding sense of wonder at the natural world, and the place of human beings within it. He spoke with astonishing candor, and with unflinching honesty – a profoundly gifted 81-year-old man facing death with remarkable courage and vitality who was still vigorous while facing the end. He was determined to come to grips with what his life has meant and what it means to be, as he put it, “a sentient being on this beautiful planet.”

Drawing on these riveting and profoundly moving twilight reflections, Oliver Sacks: His Own Life explores the extraordinary life and work of the renowned neurologist, clinician and writer. With unique access to the extensive archives of the Oliver Sacks Foundation, and featuring nearly two dozen deeply revealing and personal interviews conducted with family members, colleagues, patients and close friends, including Jonathan Miller, Robert Silvers, Temple Grandin, Christof Koch, Robert Krulwich, Lawrence Weschler, Roberto Calasso, Dr. Isabelle Rapin, Billy Hayes, Kate Edgar, Dr. Mark Homonoff, Jonathan Sacks, Steve Silberman, Shane Fistell, Dr. Atul Gawande, and Lowell Handler, among others. The film is in part the biography of an extraordinary physician and writer who “dramatized,” one man later said, “the most strange and thrilling scientific and cultural issue of our time: the nature of the human mind, through the simple act of telling stories.” It is also a deeply illuminating exploration of the science of human consciousness and the nature of subjectivity, and a meditation on the deep and intimate relation between art and science and storytelling.

Banner image courtesy of Steeplechase Films / Ric Burns

Possible Topics

  • The nature of consciousness and the mind
  • The science of storytelling