#590) The Inner World of Aphasia (1968)

#590) The Inner World of Aphasia (1968)

Directed by Edward R. Feil

Written by Naomi Feil

Class of 2015

This hard to find short is available courtesy of Indiana University’s Media Library.

The Plot: Nurse Marge Nelson (Naomi Feil) is frustrated with her job at a local hospital, offering little support to her patients. When Marge stumbles down a flight of stairs, she suffers brain damage and develops global aphasia, losing her ability to comprehend speech or communicate with others. Through her inner monologue, we hear Marge’s frustration as she struggles with basic words, exacerbated by the nurses’ lack of empathy or understanding. With help from fellow aphasia patient Jack Campon (Actor Unknown), Marge begins the long, hard process of re-understanding the world, and ensuring that the world understands her.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “empathetic and often poetic”, praising Naomi Feil’s “powerful performance” and admiring the film’s “innovative artistic qualities”.

But Does It Really?: As always, I’m looking for movies on this list that stand out for their creativity and individuality, and “Aphasia” passes the test. There’s a few rough edges in this film, but the Feils prove with their compelling storytelling that low-budget does not have to equal low quality. “Aphasia” surprised me with its delicate balance, showcasing the struggles of the disorder without ever becoming too saccharine. A yes for “The Inner World of Aphasia” and Edward & Naomi Feil.

Shout Outs: In a moment when Maggie is mentally berating herself for being “dumb”, she imagines herself as the Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz“, saying, “No brain, only straw.”

Everybody Gets One: A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Edward Feil was born to a family of doctors, but his love for movie making started early. After a stint in the Army and a B.A. from Yale, Feil founded Edward Feil Productions in 1952. Feil spent the next 50 years making short films and documentaries, many of them centering around the sick, disabled, and elderly, all treated with empathy and respect. As with “Aphasia”, Edward collaborated on many of these projects with his wife Naomi, a social worker and founder of Validation, a therapeutic method supporting elderly patients in cognitive decline.

Wow, That’s Dated: Hopefully the empathy towards brain damage victims by hospital staff has improved in the last 50 years.

Wow, That’s Not Dated: Understaffed hospitals. Man, we really suck at healthcare. Are we sure we don’t want Canada’s system? This is a situation where it’s okay to cheat off the guy sitting next to you.

Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscar love for “Aphasia”, or any of the Feils’ filmography (“Feilography”?). For the curious, the 1968 Live Action Short winner was Charles Guggenheim’s timely “Robert Kennedy Remembered“.

Other notes

  • Kudos to Naomi Feil for her performance in the film’s opening scene. She’s so natural I genuinely didn’t know if this was scripted or a documentary, or somewhere in between a la “Let There Be Light“.
  • Through an effective use of voiceover and flashbacks, this movie does a great job of really putting you in the headspace of someone with aphasia. Each moment of struggle for Marge is highlighted by some sort of triggering flashback. It seems incredibly frustrating on film, which means it’s undoubtedly even more frustrating in real life.
  • As Jack struggles to talk about the problems he and his wife have communicating, his doctor misconstrues this as “women talk all the time”. Oh goodie, there’s still room for sexism while dealing with aphasia.
  • I do love it when the phrase “all fouled up” is used in a medical context.
  • In one brief fantasy sequence, Jack is shown literally reaching for words as he attempts to speak to his nurse. Been there.
  • Some of these performances, let me tell you. Jack’s wife Janet and son in particular are letting me know that the Cleveland Playhouse was really thriving in 1968.
  • “It’s hard for a woman to understand what you’re going through.” Alright already! Yeesh.
  • The newspaper one of the nurses is holding for Marge to read is apparently an issue of the Cleveland Press, made evident by the column from their longtime sportswriter Bob August.
  • “Aphasia” would make a good companion piece with “Peege“, another NFR film about the breakdown in communication between family members when one of them is in decline. Just keep a box of tissue at the ready.
  • The shot of Janet realizing the error of her ways and consoling Jack is a low-key artful shot: You see the reflections of Janet and the doctors as they watch Jack and Margie through a two-way mirror.
  • “I nurse. I help you.” Time to break out that tissue.

Legacy

  • Edward Feil continued making movies for another 35 years after “Aphasia”, mostly dealing with the elderly and growing old. Among those films, “Looking for Yesterday”, “100 Years to Live” “My First 100 Years”, and “The More We Get Together”. These films (as well as several others in the Feil filmography) amassed a number of festival awards, as well as a Great Lakes Regional Emmy! Edward R. Feil died February 5th, 2021 in Springfield, Oregon at the age of 96.
  • Naomi Feil is still with us at age 89, as is Validation therapy and the Validation Training Institute. Feil is also the author of several books on the subject of elder care.
  • The Feils’ filmography was donated to the Moving Image Archive of Indiana University, and much of it can be viewed on Ed Feil’s YouTube channel.

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