ALL THE RAGE: A Mind-Opening Doc About Healing Pain
[Published at Film Inquiry] For a moment, consider the possibility that a physical pain in your body could be the result of a suppressed memory, the base of which lies in the vast, endless, annals of one’s brain. The documentary, All The Rage, reveals to the audience, through physical proof and testimonies, that this phenomenon is a reality, a legitimate medical condition, treated for decades by Dr. John E. Sarno, the Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU School of Medicine.
For centuries in medical advancement, there many have been instances where the cause of pain has been mis-diagnosed, even with fatal consequences. Unnecessary surgeries, medications, and physical therapy are all mishaps that occur, often prompting more, perpetual pain and intimidating medical costs.
Larry David and the eclectic cast of characters (including Bernie Sanders, Jonathan Ames, and Howard Stern) that Dr. Sarno has treated certainly gives the film great comedic entertainment, while also establishing a credibility through some of the more skeptical people interviewed, including perhaps the greatest skeptic out there, Mr. David himself, the genius creator of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. All The Rage certainly benefits from its star-billed celebrity testimonies, candid and enlightening interviews with Dr. Sarno, a consistent and compelling paralleling narrative by filmmaker Michael Galinsky to that of his own struggles, and the efficient way he presents substantiated facts to explore his topic and Dr. Sarno’s practice.
Who is Dr. Sarno?
He was a (now-retired) physician and NYU professor for nearly fifty years. Dr. Sarno is a playful and cheeky person who simply laughs his way through the criticism, knowing his high success rate speaks for itself. In the film, he never gets referrals from his 100s of physicians in his office building, people simple don’t buy it. But don’t be fooled, this isn’t a story about a “Dr. Phil,” Dr. Sarno knows what he’s doing, he has a prestigious background in scientific medicine.
Dr. Sarno describes what’s happening in the world today as an “epidemic of pain,” something he’s been trying to convince his peers of since the 1980s. He casually brushes off his lack of credibility in the industry, as he encourages his patients to do among their skeptic friends and families; most people stick to their beliefs, and arguing becomes unproductive at a certain point.
However, the skeptics are aplenty, 95% of the medical community against him. After all, he could potentially directly impact orthopedic and rehabilitation physician jobs. Despite empirical evidence, most physicians disregard what is presented to them if it goes against what they have been practicing their whole lives. The seed is planted, and its growing at a faster rate than ever in this overwhelming age of exponential technological advancements.
But Dr. Sarno, given the adversity he’s faced in his industry, remains skeptic that his system of medicine will ever be accepted by the majority of the medical community. In fact, his peers won’t even give him an opportunity to debate. But All The Rage does. Galinsky zeroes in on the 5% of the professional medical community that actually embrace Dr. Sarno’s system. It may take a while for that 5% to grow. After all, how is it possible to quantify unconscious emotions? It isn’t, at least not yet.
Dr. Sarno based his work on Freud and theories of doctors in the 1930s, who hypothesized that rage, hence the title of the documentary, was the root of certain pain. He eventually officially classify this as Mind Body Syndrome/Tension Myositis Syndrome (MBS or TMS). He does thorough and standard physical tests to rule out structural damage to the body before diagnosing TMS; it’s a “psychological-induced alteration in the physiology, which causes pain but doesn’t cause damage.”
Basically, our unconscious brain creates a phantom pain to distract our minds from traumatic experiences or recurring thoughts that you can’t outwardly express. The prescription? Encourage the patients to think these unthinkable thoughts, trivialize them, exercise, and introspective knowledge.
Credibility Is Key
As soon as David’s voice is heard offscreen, the viewer knows they’re in for an interesting, complicated, contemplative, and undoubtedly funny journey ahead of themselves. After having been misdiagnosed of several “itises,” a very Curb Your Enthusiasm phrase, he finally sought the help of Dr. Sarno. Stern got to the point where he had to lay on his back in between commercials during his radio talk show. He was healed. Ames played basketball and was incapacitated after what he thought was a back strain; he was running a day later after reading Dr. Sarno’s book. His experience was similar to Larry David’s, which he described as “the closest thing to a religious experience I’ve ever had.” He literally “wept.” Alas, these are simply words from famous people.
Galinsky mutters various quotes pertinent to the themes of All The Rage, but, at some point, they are delivered in a way that is slightly heavy handed. Quotes such as, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” – Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Or when Galinksy says, “The filmmaker Billy Wilder once said, “If you have a problem in the third act, the real problem is in the first act.” The same can be said of life.” Or, “You can’t go home again.” – Thomas Wolfe. These are all nice quotes, but they add an arthouse element to an otherwise straightforward, urgent documentary.
Ultimately, it is Dr. Sarno’s own quote that sums up the pain epidemic most succinctly: “The kind of stress that comes from a loss of power or job insecurity or poverty, can be an impetus for and a driver of pain.” This quote perhaps rings truest with the audience, as the exponential increase in chronic pain has a direct correlation, statistically, to the worsening wealth income gap in the United States; economic uncertainty increases physical pain. The facts speak for themselves, $100 million Americans today suffer from undiagnosable pain.
The credibility lies within the empirical evidence that pain and physical emotional, even physical damage as a result, can be consciously disconnected from the mind. For example, in other countries, there are zero reports of whiplash in minor vehicle accidents, proving that it is mostly a manufactured feeling in the body caused by the mind as a reaction. Of course, I could bore you with all of the statistics, but it is Galinksy’s harrowing journey to overcome his debilitating back pain that provides the heart of this All The Rage.
Choppy At Times, But All The Rage Rights Its Sails
Galinsky moved into his childhood home, closer to Dr. Sarno, to make this documentary, and in giving the audience an intimate look at his family life, it shows how he juggles raising a family while dealing with chronic, crippling pain. And that provides an emotionally resonant “subplot” that engages the audience on a more emotional level. A documentary can only lay so many statistics, charts, and facts before losing its audience’s interest with an overabundance of information.
Dr. Sarno’s books, which have had a sizable impact among the more open medical practitioners who don’t disregard alternative medicine, Healing Back Pain and The Mind Body Prescription, are referenced as the main point of conversation around which Dr. Sarno and Galinsky’s stories intertwine. Though they are mentioned, and the audience experiences how Galinsky has benefited from Dr. Sarno’s books and treatment, the viewer never truly gets a glimpse into Dr. Sarno’s new “system” of medicine or how exactly it works.
All The Rage also meanders a bit, introducing the main conflict (Galinsky’s pain coming back with a vengeance) at over the halfway part of the film rather bluntly, but it finds its footing quickly after slipping occasionally. To Galinsky’s credit, he acknowledged that he winged this documentary, going back to it periodically for over ten years. Regardless, the narrative jumps and the choppiness of the interview editing are overshadowed by the sheer power of All The Rage’s story and important public service announcement-level message.
Essentially, these books are an apt segue to bring up the age-old debate of the mind-body connection in medicine. Of course, after Freud, the realm of psychiatry was born, and the mind became more accepted into the mainstream among the medical community. However, after the 1920s, there was a paradigm shift when antibiotics and vaccines were discovered, reducing the relevance of the mind in medical treatments.
Dr. Sarno is the living gap between bringing the mind back into the mainstream conversation amongst the medical community. His relationship with Galinsky’s family alone is a testimony to the legitimacy of his work. Eventually, more medical professionals will have to overcome their uncertainty of alternative medicine as the pain epidemic further escalates.
A Must-See Documentary
All The Rage doesn’t just offer a new, timely perspective on diagnosis of pain, especially during the opioid epidemic happening in the United States, with compelling facts, interviews, professional insight, and a satisfying platform to spread Dr. Sarno’s credibility. Stripped of its documentary genre confines, All The Rage is a dual character study and crowd-pleasing comeback story for Dr. Sarno that challenges the notions of traditional medicine and offers immediate solutions to the seemingly inexplicable pain epidemic.
Do you relate to any of the material covered in All The Rage? Have you ever heard of Dr. Sarno’s techniques? Are you a skeptic or an optimist regarding alternative medicine?
All The Rage was given a limited release on June 23, and is screening again in the US, Australia, and Canada over the next two months due to popular demand. Request it in your city here!