All the Rage (Saved by Sarno)
ALL THE RAGE SAVED BY SARNO, documentary, not rated, The Screen, 3.5 chiles
In a city like Santa Fe, the idea that chronic pain has at least some basis in psychological trauma is not particularly controversial. If you have recurring back spasms, for instance, doctors here often recommend psychotherapy and yoga before prescribing painkillers or sending you to surgery. Perhaps this is because belief in the mind-body connection floats on the ether in the City Different — but in much of mainstream American medicine, this is considered fringe quackery. In the outside world, chronic pain is thought of as physical in nature, full stop. Dr. John E. Sarno, a rehabilitative specialist at New York University and author of Mind Over Back Pain (1982) and Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection (1991), was an outlier in his field. His basic advice to chronic pain sufferers was deceptively simple: Feel your feelings, get up and exercise, and be kind to yourself when you relapse. Sarno died in June 2017, one day before his ninety-fourth birthday and the release of a documentary about his work, All the Rage (Saved by
Sarno), directed by pain patient Michael Gallinsky with Suki Hawley and David Bellinson.
Initially, their approach is perplexing. Interview subjects are almost all financially secure men who work in media, including Howard Stern and Larry David. Prior to encountering Sarno’s theories, they were so out of touch with their own minds that merely reading a book that gave them permission to think about pain as emotional cured them. The omission of women and ordinary work-a-day folks, or any mention that the mindbody connection is common knowledge in many world cultures and among holistic medicine practitioners, is glaring. The film seems to be an attempt to lionize a man who couldn’t get his own peers to take him seriously, as well as a sometimes awkwardly intimate look at Gallinsky’s own journey. But when Sarno testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions about the devastating health impacts of poverty — which he says creates internalized anger that is manifested as chronic pain — it is clear that the filmmakers were being strategic. Sarno, we learn, predicted the epidemic of chronic pain that has resulted in the current opioid crisis.
Gallinsky and company understand exactly who needs to hear Sarno’s message: the people who determine healthcare policy in the United States, who are not going to listen to a wide-eyed yoga teacher in Santa Fe or an African-American psychotherapist in Manhattan. But they might pay attention to a famous and wealthy cynic like Howard Stern, who insists that Sarno cured him. — Jennifer Levin
Standing alone: Dr. John E. Sarno