In 1903 Judge Daniel Paul Schreber published Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, one of the most remarkable studies of madness ‘from the inside’ ever written. Documentary, drama and CGI combine to tell his remarkable story.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2012
How does an apparently sane, sober man – a judge, in fact – become a desperate, unpredictable one, plagued by terrifying visions? Daniel Paul Schreber differs from other 19th-century unfortunates in that he published a book about his experiences, Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, one of the most remarkable studies of madness ‘from the inside’ ever written. Schreber argued in court that his memoir was itself proof that he was a functioning member of society, despite all the mutant flying jellyfish typewriters swarming around him. His hallucinations fuel the film’s extraordinary cinematic visions, with matter-of-fact CGI intrusions and nightmarish distortions of perspective. But it’s more than just a (literal) head trip: Shock Head Soul also explores the social history of madness and its treatment. Contemporary academics (dressed in period costume), like Freud and Jung before them, analyse Schreber on the basis of his written testimony. Piece by piece, the film builds up an unforgettable portrait of the man, his madness and his times. — AL