Ground-breaking Irish psychiatrist Ivor Browne is the subject of Alan Gilsenan's latest documentary, in which Browne, seated in the middle of a large, bare studio, talks us through the highlights of his multi-faceted life, his personal reminisces punctuated with regular meetings with a number of Irish personalities, among them Tommy Teirnan, Nell McCafferty, Mary Coughlan and Sebastian Barry.
Sprightly and dapper at the age of eighty-seven, Browne has lost none of his capacity to shock, charm and provoke. He had 'almost everything to be ashamed of' he tells us of his early life, an emotionally difficult period when the young child was frequently reminded by his father that he was a 'mistake'. Spurred on by 'some queer search for meaning', and 'driven by an anxiety not to be a total failure,' Browne emerged as a young man from a protracted convalescence after contracting tuberculosis determined to question his relationship with the world.
It's a gripping character study, with Browne in disarmingly frank confessional mode (after bringing psilocybin to Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s, he brought home marijuana seeds from which he grew a flourishing crop in a Killiney glasshouse). He explores his concept of 'the frozen present', at one point assisting Mary Coughlan in assisted regression – a kind of hypnosis – which results in an astounding revelation. There are discussions on the electro-magnetic connections between the heart and the brain, and Browne's development of a neuro-plastic holistic approach to treating psychiatric disorders (both of which are utterly engrossing), all of it delivered in a self-deprecating style that renders both subject and subject matter entirely accessible to the uninitiated viewer.
Gilsenan, who previously directed the documentaries The Ghost of Roger Casement and The Yellow Bittern, another frank and open offering from the subject matter, offers a nuanced portrayal of a self-confessed flawed man, particularly when he draws Browne out on the subject of fatherhood (his own father was a difficult man to love; Browne himself confesses to his own failings as a father).