All Divided Selves, Review of Luke Fowler’s R D Laing Documentary
Cheryl McGeachan writes: Inside The Glasgow Film Theatre on Thursday evening a diverse mix of individuals crowded together for the sold-out UK premier of Luke Fowler’s new film All Divided Selves. Fowler’s piece, once again, takes Scottish born psychiatrist Ronald David Laing as its centrepiece, and yet this is a film about much more than the man himself. Throughout the carefully threaded together archival footage that wonderfully covers Laing’s journey from a psychiatrist working on publicising his first book, The Divided Self (1960), to the global explosion of his image as a counter-culture figure through The Politics of Experience (1967), this film also manages to become a carefully considered excavation into the heart of psychiatry itself. At times individuals experiencing extreme forms of mental ill-health are painfully stripped bare, revealing the real suffering that is experienced within and beyond the mental institution. However, these glimpses into the psychiatric profession of the past demonstrate the importance of its continued consideration in the present. In part, Fowler’s interest in Laing is due to the humanist approach he adopts and the challenges he poses to an establishment that he felt required internal and external reform. Although the image of Laing has been, arguably deservedly, critiqued his work continues to challenge and inspire those within and beyond the mental health profession, and Fowler’s work is an excellent example of this.
During the discussion session after the screening, chaired by psychiatrist and historian Allan Beveridge, and involving Laing’s eldest son Adrian and Fowler himself, the questions that Laing and his work raises were clearly on display. For Adrian, this film was an emotional journey through a part of his father’s life, where he encountered a number of intimate family friends such as David Cooper and Aaron Esterson, and watched never before seen footage of his father and his world. Beyond the flickering footage Adrian was aware of the stories that exist outside of the films boundaries, and throughout the discussion gave insight into the narratives that feed into the images that were shown.
All Divided Selves is a multi-layered piece that takes the audience on an emotional trip through consumerist society, psychiatry and personal pain, all through the lens of R.D. Laing’s life and work. The questions Fowler skilfully raises will continue to haunt as you leave the screening and for that, and much more, this is a piece that is worth watching time and again.