'Brain On Fire' Is A Perfect Example Of Why Books Are Always Better Than The Movie

'Brain On Fire' Is A Perfect Example Of Why Books Are Always Better Than The Movie

If you enjoyed the movie, please please please read the book.


The Book


This past week I had the pleasure of reading Susannah Cahalan's memoir, "Brain On Fire: My Month of Madness." Inhaling it in one day, this memoir recounts how the then-24-year-old spiraled from living a normal life as a journalist for the New York Post to showing psychotic symptoms to becoming unexplainably catatonic within a one-month span, followed by the life-changing diagnosis of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis and her long recovery to a "90% normal."

This book checked off every box for my psychology and biology loving self, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well this book was able to simultaneously produce a feeling of fascination and suspense while also being able to explain medical diagnoses and terminology in a thorough, understandable way.

Using her own personal memories, journals from loved ones, and medical records and videos, Cahalan uses her journalist skills to piece together her month of madness. Explaining to her readers up front that she will never be able to fully or accurately remember all of the events from this period in 2009, Susannah Cahalan presents this portion of her life in a well constructed, painfully real way that will make you not only question and awe at the complexity of the human body and the state of our medical system, but also be greatly moved by the love and perseverance of Susannah's loved ones throughout this whole ordeal.

The Movie


Naturally, after reading the book and doing a little research, I discovered that Netflix had recently added the movie adaption of the memoir to its content list.

Starring Chloe Grace Moretz, I decided to watch the movie and compare it to the book.

And let me tell you, the book is 10x better than the movie.

As book-to-movie adaptations go, a lot of the information is changed. For example, Susannah's age in the movie is 21. While that shouldn't be a huge deal, I'd just like to point out her position as a journalist at The New York Post. I'd take a guess that a position there requires a college degree, which most 21-year-olds yet to have, yet it is established that she has worked there for a while.

Between its inaccuracies and overdramatization, the beginning of this movie left much to be desired. However, as the movie progresses and Cahalan's illness worsens, the movie begins to focus on the symptoms and the spiral of Cahalan's mental and physical state.

The catalog of symptoms takes over a majority of this movie, and only the last 15 minutes depict Susannah's monumental diagnosis and lengthy recovery. While the symptoms are key, I think it is a disservice to the audience to omit the recovery process Susannah battled through in the months after diagnosis. Not only is this a period in which Cahalan's memories allow this to be the most reliable part of the memoir, but it also demonstrates the harrowing reality of the illness's aftermath and the incredible strength that Cahalan builds while reconstructing her life brick by brick.

The Verdict

Although the movie does a decent job of depicting Cahalan's "month of madness," it doesn't compare to the depth achieved in her memoir.

While the movie allows us to witness the severity of her symptoms, including her seizures, psychotic episodes, and catatonia, my biggest fear is that people may belittle these events, believing that they are over-the-top or simply made-for-movie scenes.

However, these events happened in real life, which is much scarier than even the best acting and the perfect score could portray.

Through writing this memoir, Cahalan made herself vulnerable, exposing the worst period of her life for everyone to witness. Cahalan's bravery and extraordinary journalistic skills allowed her to gather indispensable information and first-hand evidence to fill in the blanks of a time that she can't even remember, all so that her story could possibly help others in similar situations.

Susannah Cahalan was only the 217th person to ever be diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. However, since the publication of her book in 2012, thousands more have been diagnosed and treated for the autoimmune disease.

All in all, Cahalan said it best in an article that she wrote about her experience with the movie from June 2018, "I realized then that none of my petty problems about the film mattered. The movie was not my story anymore... This movie has the potential to save lives. And what's more important than that?"

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My AP Environmental Science Class' Cookie Mining Experiment Shows Why Capitalism Is Destroying The Planet

Who cares about the environment with profits this high?


With the AP exams in May approaching quickly, my AP Environmental Science class has wasted no time in jumping right into labs. To demonstrate the damage to the environment done by strip mining, we were instructed to remove the chocolate chips from cookies.

The experiment in itself was rather simple. We profited from fully or partially extracted chips ($8 for a full piece and $4 for a partial) and lost from buying tools, using time and area and incurring fines.

This might seem simplistic, but it showcased the nature of disastrous fossil fuel companies.

We were fined a $1 per minute we spent mining. It cost $4 per tool we bought (either tweezers or paper clips) and 50 cents for every square centimeter of cookie we mined.

Despite the seemingly overbearing charges compared to the sole way to profit, it was actually really easy to profit.

If we found even a partial chocolate chip per minute, that's $3 profit or utilization elsewhere. Tools were an investment that could be made up each with a partial chip, and clearly we were able to find much, much more than just one partial chip per tool.

Perhaps the most disproportionally easiest thing to get around were the fines. We were liable to be fined for habitat destruction, dangerous mining conditions with faulty tools, clutter, mess and noise level. No one in the class got fined for noise level nor faulty tools, but we got hit with habitat destruction and clutter, both of which added up to a mere $6.

We managed to avoid higher fines by deceiving our teacher by pushing together the broken cookie landscapes and swiping away the majority of our mess before being examined for fining purposes. This was amidst all of our cookies being broken into at least three portions.

After finding many, many chips, despite the costs of mining, we profited over $100. We earned a Franklin for destroying our sugary environment.

We weren't even the worst group.

It was kind of funny the situations other groups simulated to their cookies. We were meant to represent strip mining, but one group decided to represent mountaintop removal. Mountaintop removal is where companies go to extract resources from the tops of mountains via explosions to literally blow the tops off. This group did this by literally pulverizing their cookies to bits and pieces with their fists.

They incurred the maximum fine of $45. They didn't profit $100, however.

They profited over $500 dollars.

In the context of our environmental science class, these situations were anywhere from funny to satisfying. In the context of the real world, however, the consequences are devastating our environment.

Without even mentioning the current trajectory we're on approaching a near irreversible global temperature increase even if we took drastic measures this moment, mining and fracking is literally destroying ecosystems.

We think of earthquakes as creating mass amounts of sudden movement and unholy deep trenches as they fracture our crust. With dangerous mining habits, we do this ourselves.

Bigger companies not even related to mining end up destroying the planet and even hundreds of thousands of lives. ExxonMobil, BP? Still thriving in business after serial oil spills over the course of their operation. Purdue Pharma, the company who has misled the medical community for decades about the effects of OxyContin and its potential for abuse, is still running and ruining multitudes more lives every single day.

Did these companies receive fines? Yes.

But their business model is too profitable to make the fines have just about any effect upon their operation.

In our cookie mining simulation, we found that completely obliterating the landscape was much more profitable than being careful and walking on eggshells around the laws. Large, too-big-to-fail companies have held the future of our planet in their greedy paws and have likewise pulverized our environment, soon enough to be unable to return from.

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