2003, NR, 55 min. Directed by Melody Gilbert.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 3, 2003
Amputee fetishism – who knew? Whole, the documentary debut of filmmaker Melody Gilbert, shines a remarkable burst of light on a situation that, for most people, will prove to be an eye-opening revelation. Apparently, many people (the movie ventures no numbers) suffer from a form of body dysmorphia in which they would feel more normal or "whole" with a limb missing. The lengths to which some "wannabe" amputees have gone to remove various limbs (or create this illusion) – strategies include gunshots and self-amputation – are heartbreaking to witness. Akin but not identical to the anguish felt by individuals who long for sex-change operations, the personal and social discomfort suffered by amputee fetishists and their loved ones is all too human. Gilbert approaches her interviews with genuine curiosity and shows how these limb-loathers are "normal" and "sane" in all other respects. Their perfect ordinariness, in fact, only seems to make their obsession that much more bizarre. In addition to talking with the subjects, Gilbert also interviews doctors and spouses for some objective insight. Some spouses are supportive, others are not, and we are able to glimpse the private and social hell these people endure both in terms of keeping their secret and "coming out" to others. The film should prove quite enlightening for physicians and social workers unfamiliar with the condition, and should prove to be a boon to the medical understanding, acceptance, and treatment of this underexposed clinical fixation. General audiences are more likely to be lured by the novelty factor alone. Whole belongs to a growing category of documentary filmmaking that, as more and more stones are overturned in our camera-happy culture, seeks out unusual or fringe social groups for observation, often chosen expressly for their oddity rather than any point of view proffered by the subjects or the filmmakers. Gilbert’s film takes a wide-eyed and nonmorbid approach to her subjects, and the film is sure to become required viewing among psychiatry residents during their medical training. For the rest of us, Whole uncovers heretofore hidden and unknown aspects of the human psyche. Whole will be preceded by Barry J. Spinello’s "A Day in the Life of Bonnie Consolo" (1975), a documentary in which a woman born without arms goes through her daily routine.