Gray Matter

"Excellent"

Gray Matter Review


Gray Matter began when writer/director Joe Berlinger (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) read of the Austrian government's decision to bury the brains of children who were maltreated and perished in a mental hospital during World War II. Experiments were done on these children, from infants to pre-teens, to apparently track the genesis of behavior and developmental dysfunctions. Once they died, their brains were taken out and put in jars for further research.

In 2002, these organs were finally put in canisters and laid to rest. Berlinger joined an international team of journalists to the ceremonies and meetings that were taking place to explore the situation. In the process, he discovers that the doctor in charge of the hospital at that time, Heinrich Gross, is still alive and was practicing as a doctor and expert court witness until only a few years before. He proceeds to unearth a series of events that protected Dr. Gross from criminal repercussions.

What Gray Matter ably explores that so few films do is the determined denial that allows a bureaucratic government to thrive at the expense of its citizens. The key difference in storytelling as opposed to other documentaries that are composed out of extreme circumstances is the quiet way it presents the facts. Berlinger thankfully allows the audience to feel each bit of new information as it comes to him, provoking an individual to ask his own questions instead of telling him how to feel about what he is seeing. There is no sarcasm and there is no trying to push anyone's buttons, as Berlinger interviews lawyers, medical personnel, and survivors or relatives of victims of the hospital.

Berlinger also goes out of his way to achieve a sense of understanding of the society he is filming, without condescending to anyone that took part in wreaking such havoc on helpless children. Why were these brains still being experimented on 50 years after internment? One doctor explains that the material was around to be used and autopsies are not performed in a strictly Catholic environment. It is commendable that Berlinger's questioning maintains a respectful, curious nature throughout and never becomes accusatory as it develops a rich, deep understanding of what occurred.

Gray Matter does tear at your heart as you see pictures of children who went unprotected and unredeemed. Your whole body shivers at one particular moment when the film concentrates on several pictures of the same child's skull as he goes through several cranial operations. But to leave the film with anger is missing the admirable intentions of it, which is to not only know about atrocities, but to discuss them and release information to those unaware so that we can create a foundation for a more humane community that takes responsibility for its actions to the extent that it won't let them happen again.

The DVD includes a commentary track from Berlinger.



Gray Matter

Facts and Figures

Run time: 48 mins

In Theaters: Sunday 24th February 2008

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

IMDB: 8.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: Sidney Beaumont, Michael Bonfiglio

Starring: Barbara Burgess as Dr. Carol Portland, Gil Peterson as Dr. Elton Morris, Marcus J. Grapes as Judd Reeves

Also starring:

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