Do we experience physical pain because we actually are in pain, or because we fabricate it to distract us from unthinkable thoughts? Documentary filmmaker Michael Galinsky, a lifelong back pain sufferer, attempts to answer this question and, in the process, embarks on a personal quest and highlights the work of NYC-based doctor John E Sarno, the formulator of tension myositis syndrome (TMS), a fancy term for the aforementioned brain distraction concept.
Sarno posits that past emotional traumas—think unresolved feelings toward parents or relationships or challenging situations from childhood—are some of the culprits of TMS rather than only traditional causes such as spinal discomfort, nerve damage, etc. According to Sarno, TMS often presents as neck or back pain, estimating that some 88 percent of those he's treated have found relief through his multi-pronged approach: read his books, attend his lectures, journal every day and exercise more. Of course, this could sound either like too-obvious advice or like snake oil (buy the books, huh?) but, as Sarno says in the film, "The majority of the population are unable to accept this, and you can't hold it against them."
Galinsky, however, appears to be a believer and a beneficiary, as are famous folks interviewed in the film such as Howard Stern, Larry David and Bored to Death creator Jonathan Ames. And though we must admit it starts to make a lot of sense (as do the subjects of most well-crafted documentaries), Galinsky seems to dive too deep into his own personal experiences, pathos and pain issues, practically forcing Sarno into a supporting role. Scenes of Galinsky writhing in agony on the floor are almost more prevalent than interviews with Sarno, and later moments in the film that provide thoughts from other medical professionals or point out other books that align with Sarno's ideas feel buried.
Do Sarno's theories and methods ring true, or are they like any number of unproven medical ideas that reverberate throughout our modern world? It's hard to say in the end, but one doctor's position that it's more profitable to peddle pills and procedures over intensive care methodology, such as Sarno's, still hurts. (Alex De Vore)
+ Fantastic cinematography
- Too much filmmaker, not enough subject
All the Rage