2016 Brain on Fire

Richard Armitage

Tom Cahalan

Directed by Gerard Barrett
Produced by A.J. Dix, Beth Kono, Rob Merilees, Lindsay Macadam, Charlize Theron
Written by Gerard Barrett
Based on Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

Chloë Grace Moretz
Jenny Slate
Thomas Mann
Tyler Perry
Carrie-Anne Moss
Richard Armitage


Susannah Cahalan (Moretz) is a New York Post writer, who works with her boss Richard (Perry) and desk neighbor/co-worker Margo (Slate). She meets a sound producer named Stephen (Mann) and they become friends. Susannah begins to experience strange things (such as in a state of trance, people — who are not actually present — talking about her and being sensitive to annoying noise) and her behavior becomes unusually erratic. After several days of mishaps made by her in the office due to her shifty behavior, Susannah suffers a seizure while in bed with Stephen on her side.

After consulting with a clinic, her father Tom (Armitage) confronts Stephen about not calling her parents regarding the incident. Tom suggests that she stay with her parents, which Susannah refuses to do, but in the end, she leaves to stay with her mother and stepfather. At her mother’s house, Susannah has another seizure. She is taken to a clinic where Susannah undergoes an MRI. The doctor advises her mother, Rhona (Moss), that Susannah has been partying too much, working too hard and not getting enough sleep. While at her doctor’s appointment, Susannah thinks that she has bipolar disorder, after reading online that “creative people are bipolar.” The doctor prescribes anti-psychotic pills but she refuses to take these after reading about their side effects, believing these are causing her symptoms. Rhona gets her to take the pills anyway, but during dinner, Susannah unleashes her aggressive behavior. Rhona begs Susannah’s father to look after her instead but after Susannah has a breakdown her parents demand that she is hospitalized despite MRI, EEG and physical tests all show normal results.

One of the doctors says to her parents that she is possibly suffering from schizophrenia. The doctor tells them that if Susannah’s behavior doesn’t improve, she will be transferred to another hospital, where they can deal with psychological problems. Susannah rapidly becomes catatonic, and Dr. Souhel Najjar is asked to help in investigating her case. Najjar states that Susannah’s drawing of a clock means that she can’t be bipolar or schizophrenic. Najjar has her undergo a brain biopsy in order to take cells from her brain for diagnosis. It is found that she has an anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis and Najjar describes it as her “brain is on fire.” Dr. Najjar successfully gives Susannah proper treatment.

Seven months later, Susannah is back at work and presents her first written piece to Richard since her recovery. A grateful Richard tells her to start writing a book about her experience. Sitting at her desk, she begins to compose the story, entitled Brain on Fire.


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