FILM REVIEW: Electric Malady

According to the World Health Organization, about 1.5 to 3% of the world’s population is affected by electrosenstivity. This means that this condition is as prevalent as autism. I bring this fact up because, been autistic myself, I kind of relate to the subject of Marie Lidén’s BAFTA-nominated documentary, Electric Malady.

Swedish lad William was a university student, studying in Norway. He had a “fairy tale” childhood and was a guitar player for a number of bands. Then, one day, inside the library his then girlfriend worked in, he experienced an attack of extreme pain in the head. He had experienced irritation from fluorescent lights and computer screens some time before. But a recently installed hearing aid loop made these irritations into an extremely painful experience, which also affected three other people at the time. Since then, his condition got worse. Early on, he was able to have an almost normal life, expect for a wire mesh blanket over his head to shield his brain from radiation. He was able to drive a car and explore the Swedish troll territory regularly.

But it slowly got worse. By the time Marie Lidén visited him, William was living in an isolated hut miles away from civilization. But even here, he needs to have a blanket over himself to have as little pain as possible.

The library incident happened in the mid-2000s. Since then, the number of radiation-producing devices has increased – 4G networks, wi-fi routers, contactless cards, wireless charging systems. IS this why his condition got worse?

Despite the imposed isolation, William has tried his best to live a positive life. His parents visit him twice a week and, in the film, they celebrated the “Little Vole’s” 40th birthday. He listens to music regularly from CDs (with a cake tin over his CD player to shield it). Seeing him dance to Sinéad O’Connor was a moment of delight.

Filming William was a challenge. William did once use a video camera to make a video diary in the early years of his worsening condition. Clips from his video dairy show the freedom he once had before things got worse. But by the time of Marie Lidén’s visits, even the camera she was initially using was irritating him. Later on, she switched to a clockwork-powered film camera to capture William’s life. Other reviewers have commented on the use of film here in creating a “dream-like” look to the film. But I didn’t see a noticeable transition from digital to film. Maybe because the digital was modified to match the film for consistency.

His condition is not so extreme to shun all electricity. His hut has LED lights, which produce very little radiation. He also had a speaker phone installed (via fibre optic) after filming, which is a “miracle” to him. His isolation may finally be ending.

The film can sometimes feel like watching a Norse Noir drama or a documentary about someone dying of cancer who may not have long left to live. I say this because, in the end, this is a film about a sick man. A man sick with an “invisible” condition few are aware of. In fact, many think it doesn’t exist. Its hypochondria. A disease of the mind. A made-up disorder.

William himself was once subject to a psychotherapist who later got him dragged to a psych ward by the police and sectioned for a week. That “expert” couldn’t accept that he didn’t have any childhood trauma. This incident reeks of psychologists who believe in the “refrigerator mother” theory about autism.

I hope this film convinces more people his condition is real. Decades ago, Autism was a similar condition. Few heard of it and many were sceptical of its existence. And let, today its highly recognized and few only question it on the subject of its cause. It is well studied now, with findings that ‘ll filter out to everyone, improving out knowledge of the brain and development.

Electrosenstivity, on the other hand, is rarely looked at. We could be missing significant knowledge about the human body’s relationship with electricity because people think electrosenstivity isn’t real – like those psychologists who thought autism was cause by emotionless parenting, and not biology.

William is writing a book about his experience.

Electric Malady is out is select cinemas now.

Review by Professor Gordon Wallace

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