If you’ve never had a migraine, you may well think they’re just a type of headache—a really bad headache, perhaps, but on the same spectrum as the headaches that most people experience at one time or another. If you are one of the one billion or so people worldwide who suffer from migraines, on the other hand, you know that a migraine is something quite different from a headache—far more serious, far more unpredictable, and manifesting a wide variety of symptoms that may include the disruption of multiple senses, mental and emotional confusion, and crippling pain.
Out of My Head, a documentary written and directed by Susanna Styron and produced by Jacki Ochs, will help to explain migraines both to those who have them, and those who don’t. It began as a personal journey, as Styron and her daughter Emma set out together to learn more about migraines after Emma began experiencing them at age 14. The first symptom was an episode of blindness, with headache and vomiting only coming in later episodes; eventually she was diagnosed with migraine. Knowing what you have is better than nothing, but perhaps not as great as you might think, because there’s currently no cure for migraine, just treatments that can help a person live with the condition. Finding the right treatment or combination of treatments can be tricky: one of the medical professionals interviewed calls migraine a “moving target,” while another notes that if he discovered a cure for migraine, he’d probably win the Nobel Prize for it, because that’s how complicated a disease it is.
One of the best aspects of Out of My Head is the variety of voices it features (minor complaint—I could have used more chyrons to identify people, since there are so many interview subjects that it’s easy to forget who is who). It qualifies as an “own voices” narrative due to the number of people who speak about their own migraines, when and how they began, and how their life has been affected. But it’s not just about the personal stories: Out of My Head also conveys a lot of scientific information, explained in laymen’s terms, through interviews with professionals in the field. Animations and illustrative graphics are used effectively to help convey information and supply visuals for aspects of Emma’s story, the latter adding a homey note to a film that could have become overly clinical.
Having a variety of people, of different ages and genders and ethnicities and walks of life, describe their migraines is a great approach to the subject, because migraines, their triggers, and their symptoms are all so individual. Everyone’s story is given equal respect, from famous people like authors Joan Didion and Siri Hustvedt and NBA star Dwayne Wade to ordinary folks like combat veteran David Jernigan and his wife Billie and daughter Morgan. Treatment must also be individual, because not every medication works for everyone, what works today may not work tomorrow, and for some people, it becomes a question of arranging their lives around the condition. That’s a context familiar to many people suffering from a chronic disease, and it gives you an idea how serious migraine can be. | Sarah Boslaugh
Out of My Head is distributed on DVD by Kino Lorber. Extras on the disc include seven bonus scenes, a 57-minute education version of the feature, the film’s trailer, an audio description, English closed captioning, and subtitles in English, Danish, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.