Reviewed By The Ultimate Dancing Machine
Posted 06/15/03 23:53:30

"Addition by subtraction"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

(SCREENED AT THE 2003 LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL.) They're rich and poor, married and single; they come from all over the world. Some are coping well with their condition, others are consumed with self-loathing. They have only one thing in common: from early childhood, they've been obsessed with the idea of having one or more of their limbs amputated.

Director Melody Gilbert's absorbing documentary takes a straightforward approach to an easily sensationalized topic, an admittedly bizarre psychological condition so poorly understood that it has no official medical name. Her subjects--from America, England, Holland, and elsewhere--speak candidly about their singular obsession, and the often extraordinary lengths they have gone to fulfill it. One fellow confesses to having shot himself in the leg in order to have it amputated; another man likes to hobble around the house with an improvised leg-sling, dreaming of the day when he'll have his limb cut off for good. They insist there's nothing pathological about their desires, and in fact for the most part they come across as a reasonably normal bunch. Other interviewees include a Scottish surgeon who has stirred up violent controversy by supporting the practice of voluntary amputation.

Gilbert isn't blind to the surreal humor of all this--it's hard not to laugh when one "wannabe" accuses his wife of being "narrow-minded" for trying to persuade him from having his leg amputated--but she treats her subjects with respect. By avoiding the obvious freak-show possibilities, she has created an authentically educational film. It's the sort of movie that has people arguing intensely with each other as they head for the exits. And if it does little to explain why these troubled folks are so obsessed with amputation, it's only because there's so little to explain; modern science just doesn't know much about this condition.

I'm not aware of any previous movies on this subject. If WHOLE is the first, then it's a very respectable venture into this off-the-road terrain.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.