April 29, 2022

8 authentic movies about epilepsy

Lifestyle & Wellness

What movies about epilepsy do you know? Read about films and TV shows with authentic and sensitive representations of the condition.

Epilepsy is a very complex condition, yet the way it is represented in many movies can be insensitive and far from authentic. Even today, film directors sometimes use outdated stereotypes about people with epilepsy and their seizures.

Epilepsy is often portrayed in troubling ways. Sometimes, seizures are cheaply used for plot twists. Rather than recognizing the human experience of people with epilepsy, seizures are ‘thrown in’ to movies for dramatic effect. Perhaps most insultingly, characters sometimes make casual remarks about ‘fits’ for comic effect.

Let’s take a look at movies where characters with seizures are presented in realistic and authentic ways. Here are eight examples of movies about epilepsy, or where a character has the condition.

Related: 4 famous movie actors with epilepsy

Mum and son watching a movie about epilepsy

8 movies about epilepsy

We have selected eight movies about epilepsy which represent the condition and people who have epilepsy in a realistic and authentic way. Most importantly, these characters are not defined by their epilepsy - it is just one part of who they are.

First, do no harm

This 1997 drama is a tough but honest portrayal of refractory epilepsy (where medication doesn’t stop seizures). Starring Meryl Streep, it follows the life of a mid-western family whose young son begins having seizures. The anti epileptic drugs he is prescribed cause unpleasant side effects and don’t seem to stop his seizures. Lori, the boy’s mom, eventually discovers the ketogenic diet, which helps him regain seizure control.

Garden State

2004 indie comedy drama Garden State features Zach Braff as a depressed young man who returns to his hometown, where he falls in love with a girl named Sam (played by Natalie Portman). Sam has epilepsy, and although we do not see her having any seizures in the movie (she has been seizure-free for several years) her health insurance company is trying to make her wear a helmet to protect her in case she falls. This shows people with epilepsy can sometimes be unfairly treated.

Control

Control is a 2007 biopic of 1970s English rock band Joy Division and its singer Ian Curtis. Curtis had epilepsy, and his seizures are represented authentically in the film. Importantly, Curtis’s seizures are not used simply as plot twists - but instead as part of a portrayal of his whole person.

Recommended: The link between music and epilepsy

Electricity

Another English movie, 2014’s Electricity tells the story of a young woman with epilepsy who learns that her brother - who she thought had died - could be alive. She travels to London to try and find him, and the movie shows how her seizures and medication interact with her journey.

The Exploding Girl

This 2009 movie depicts the story of Ivy, a young college student who has juvenile myoclonic epilepsy and a summer when she returns home to Brooklyn. Again, this character depicts life for someone with epilepsy in a realistic way - whether it’s taking medication, visiting the doctor, or simply going about her normal life.

Documentary movies about epilepsy

There have been several powerful documentary movies about epilepsy including:

Diagnosis epilepsy: now what

A free online documentary and informational film for parents whose children have been diagnosed with epilepsy.

Zach, a film about epilepsy

This documentary follows a day in the life of a child who has a form of severe epilepsy. 

What's the time Mister Wolf?

This documentary movie about epilepsy focuses on members of an acting troupe who have epilepsy.

Improving representation in movies about epilepsy

Although epilepsy has traditionally been represented in negative ways in movies, the above list shows portrayals of the condition are improving. 

And some people with epilepsy are even creating their own movies to educate others about the condition. Read about Epsy user and filmmaker Miles Levin, whose move Under the Lights portrays a character with seizures.