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American Experience: The Lobotomist (2008)

Narrated by Campbell Scott , Barak Goodman and John Maggio  |  NR |  DVD
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Narrated by Campbell Scott
  • Directors: Barak Goodman and John Maggio
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: PBS
  • DVD Release Date: February 12, 2008
  • Run Time: 60 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0012M1KWC
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,185 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

The lobotomy was hailed by The New York Times as a "surgery of the soul", a landmark medical procedure promising hope to mentally ill patients. Championed by neurologist Walter J. Freeman, this "last resort" caught on fast. A decade later, Freeman was decried as a moral monster and the lobotomy as a barbaric mistake of modern medicine. This program tells the gripping tale of medical intervention gone awry.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars disturbing and sad--but a story that needs to be told November 12, 2009
American Experience: The Lobotomist tells the not so pretty story of the rise and fall of Dr. Walter Freeman and his surgical lobotomy procedure, a controversial treatment even when it was done in large numbers in an attempt to treat patients with chronic and severe forms of mental illness. This type of surgery took place, for the most part, back in the 1930s, 1940s and even the 1950s when psychiatric hospitals were little more than warehouses for people with mental illness; the best of the best simply had no idea how to treat them besides observation.

Enter Walter Freeman. The grandson of a doctor who was famous for the fist successful removal of a brain tumor on a living patient, Dr. Freeman wanted to prove himself a God. This wasn't all too hard at the time since doctors were generally regarded as Gods and almost nobody ever questioned their authority. In Dr. Freeman's time patients simply complied and there was no such thing as "informed consent." Freeman wanted solutions for chronic mental illness and he wanted them fast just as he also wanted fame and fortune for his efforts. He read so much that he finally discovered a crude form of lobotomy and after a few years of making this procedure a bit more sophisticated (not that it ever was an answer nor did it turn out to be sophisticated in any true way), lobotomies across the nation were occurring more and more frequently. Eventually thousands of people were having lobotomies and despite the fact that the results weren't really all that positive Dr. Freeman continued his surgery which was sometimes done outside a hospital in a most unprofessional way.
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33 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Until the 1930's,mentally "unstable" or "depressed" or "insane" people were often institutionalized,forgotten or considered an embarrassment to the family.Walter Freeman,the son of an American leading doctor,Dr.Keene, with much to prove and ambition for fame,began to "rescue" the mentally troubled by working on and seeking to perfect the bi-orbital frontal lobotomy- a technique whereby an simple ice pick is tapped into the frontal lobe of the brain and render the patient docile,relieved of all anxiety, thus "cured".The medical community and psychiatric community at first was skeptical,but within the shortest period of time began hailing Freeman.s lobotomy as standard medical procedure,so much so, that many unqualified people began to perform this simple five minute procedure!!!This "cure" would potentially end psychiatry (which carries it's own baggage) as we knew it.

If you want to watch this 60 minute special from PBS' 'American Experience", your hair will stand on end and questions will be raised in your minds about how quickly people search for "miracle cures" and how haphazardly the revered medical community can toss aside all good and correct scientific practice in the light of continued evaluation over a period of time! People flocked in droves to have this procedure done.Families,burdened with a loved one who was mentally imbalanced made decisions under a doctor's advice to have the lobotomy done.

This documentary explores Walter Freeman,and at times villaifies and at times praises his work.This is how he was viewed by two camps in his lifetime.Was he a sane and rational scientist,or was he a egotistical maniac bent on fame?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent July 21, 2011
Verified Purchase
This is an excellent watch for those interested in mental illness or the history of medicine. Not something that you typically come across for rentals, but very much enjoyed. I recommend!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short and very informative. March 4, 2014
Format:Amazon Instant Video
I watched the first one on lobotomies. I can't say that I had pondered that topic much before, however, I'm so glad to have watched it and now understand the plight of the mentally ill in history.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great show February 23, 2014
By Kevin
Format:Amazon Instant Video
good show, learn about america's history and different things that have happened through the years. educational and informative great show
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good documentaries February 21, 2014
By K.D.
Format:Amazon Instant Video
Very informational and covers s wide variety of topics. Learning things I never knew. Seems accurate and unbiased. Watch these.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Series! April 5, 2014
By Leftee
Format:Amazon Instant Video
Really great series of documentaries on some very fascinating topics in the history of the USA. Each episode is well researched and both entertaining and informative.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good documentary series but a bit dry January 16, 2014
Format:Amazon Instant Video
Decent documentary but a bit dry. Also, it tends to drag and repeat facts. Its also a bit too long. Shaving an half hour off wouldve made it better
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