Credit: Brainstream NFB Nov 19 2021 / NFB media package

The last year and a half has been a roller coaster ride of uncertainty and stress. Many of us could use a really good massage. Unfortunately, unless it’s covered by benefits – remember those perks associated with something called a full-time unionized job? – most of us can’t afford to visit our local masseuse. Fortunately, a free alternative looms on the horizon.

Brainstream, the interactive film written and directed by Caroline Robert, gives you the opportunity to realize the potential of your healing energy through a unique form of therapeutic massage.

Imagine it’s 2028 and Health Canada has just launched an anonymous online platform where anyone can get a brain massage. Your mission? Help massage D’s brain. As she live-streams her brain activity, you massage D’s brain, releasing memories, thoughts, emotions, obsessions and maybe the odd monster or two. Think of it as a virtual tour through the museum of D’s brain.

In order for D to really benefit from this session, you have to keep massaging by moving your cursor or swiping a finger. If you get distracted, or take a break, D will gently remind you to join in. This simple movement not only positively affects D, but it forces you to pay attention to her ever-changing stream of thoughts, memories and emotions.

Your movements, combined with those of other anonymous participants, generate powerful energy. D experiences this energy in real time as flowing serotonin — the happiness hormone. The massaging also relaxes her neurons and helps her open up new cognitive pathways. 

Integrating animation with digital creativity, Robert has created an enchanting film which appeals to a broad, general audience. From the highlight of her day – unclogging the toilet – to the less than stellar outcome of cutting her bangs, to giving you the low-down on the velocity of farts, all of us can relate to D.

Using minimalist drawings, Robert creates a vibrant, teeming visual world that tells a moving, sensory-laden and timely story featuring an authentic anti-heroine. Massaging energizes specific parts of D’s brain, releasing entirely new ideas and reminding participants of the brain’s plasticity and its ability to transform itself through new learning. Meanwhile, humour makes it safe to explore, and normalize, both anxiety and emotions.

Engaging animation captures the constantly changing electric flow of D’s thoughts. These images are living matter that react in real time to your touch. The animated sequences change organically in a fluid and unpredictable fashion replicating the rich complexity of D’s brain.

Through a nuanced performance by Sophie Shields-Rivard (Julianne Côté in French), D is authentic and appealing. D’s unadorned and disembodied voice has a captivating effect that creates a sense of closeness and a feeling of solidarity that strengthens as you awaken her memories, see her reactions, and travel along forgotten or unexplored paths together.

Each memory bubble is a calming and anxiety-reducing experience. Soothing, often playful music reinforces these feelings while reflecting the unpredictable nature of the massage experience as it stimulates different parts of D’s brain. 

This is the perfect interactive experience for anyone who spends way too much time working on a computer, playing video games or on their phones. The simple act of massaging, combined with D’s gratitude, gives you a sense of accomplishment and contentment. And, the experience might just trigger some wonderful memories of your own.

Brainstream takes the participants’ own brain time into account. Before starting, you are given the choice between a 5-minute or 20-minute experience (19 minutes in French). This is definitely screen-time well spent.

Brainstream (Sérotonine Anonyme) will have its world premiere at the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) on Friday, November 19, 2021. Brainstream will be launching online simultaneously around the world, accessible free of charge at nfb.ca/brainstream, on computers as well as mobile devices.