Since the genesis of humanity, and perhaps for the rest of its existence, few things have intrigued -or will intrigue- us more than that most basic of human emotions: fear. Fear, that tenacious trait that held on as our biological make-up underwent innumerable transitions, serving as a primordial tool designed to guarantee our evolutionary survival. Fear, that neurological fixture that has been explored by scientists with incalculable voraciousness, leading to our understanding of how it works (a sensory response ensued by the activation of our synapses from the limbic system, monitored by that ancient switchboard: the amygdala). Fear, that perplexing phenomenon that has entranced the creative world just as vehemently: its enormity manifested in countless movies, shows, and books, with the hopes that it would help us make sense of our own existence.
As children, we are cradled by fear in its suffocating arms –an overly-protective guardian who constantly caused hitherto-undiscovered feelings of discomfort, warning us of dangers that need to be avoided. As we grew, we learned to see fear as the unwarranted visitor, frequently reaching within our treasured vault of memories and inciting biological responses that can negatively impact our bodies just as much as they help us survive. In these three films, we see this fascinating enigma explored: how memories that cause fear can be reprogrammed; how the complex systems in our brain can be assembled to create emotions; and how fear itself can be more overwhelming than the actual danger we are confronting. In the end, we learn just as much about ourselves as we do about the emotion of fear: that there are intricacies about us that we can never fully discover, and that, in all our fragility, our resilience shines through, helping us overcome even the most fearful aspects of being.
In Amygdala, a beautiful juxtaposition between the technical and the creative, narrator Bettina Lamprecht takes us inside the brain, focusing on the small region in the temporal lobe that governs human emotions - the amygdala. Anthropomorphizing this almond-shaped mass of nuclei and depicting the neurological world in a fairy-tale-like setting, the film offers a substantive portrayal of how and why memories can trigger fear, in a story both unforgettable and enriching.
Amygdala (Jeannette Louie)
This short but captivating documentary tells the story of Dr. Daniela Schiller, a neuroscientist experimenting with the concept of reconsolidation, and her father, Sigmund Schiller, a Holocaust survivor. After finally convincing Sigmund to divulge some of his personal stories from the Holocaust, Dr. Schiller discovers that her father has been rewriting painful memories in his own way, not unlike the subjects in her own experiment. The film explores the powerful effect of reconsolidation and how humans have found different ways to cope with fear.
Reconsolidation (Liron Unreich)
In Breu, different forms of media are employed to create an enthralling look into the negative and positive effects of fear on the mind. When a boy loses his beloved watch in an abandoned factory, he bravely walks inside until he succumbs to his fears and escapes. What ensues is an incredible portrayal of how fear can be so paralyzing – complete with a concise explanation of the science at work – that it can obstruct positive outcomes unless we learn how to overcome it.
Breu (Jeronimo Rocha)
Elaine is a marketing professional with an educational background in molecular biology. Her passions lie in the intersection between creativity and science.