If you’re like most people, you probably think that you need a mind-expanding experience like you need a hole in the head. There are others – artists, intrepid explorers of the mind – who would say the opposite, that you need a hole in the head in order to have drug-free, altered states of consciousness and to experience the clarity and exhilaration of perception that one did as a child.
The act of boring a hole in the skull for such purposes is called trepanation. This subject is thoroughly explored in the documentary film A Hole In The Head, directed by Eli Kabillio and conceived and produced by Cevin Soling, leader of the post everything rock band The Love Kills Theory. Inspired by an offhand comment and following a trail of rumors, Mr. Soling discovered a group of people, trepanauts if you will, who practice this form of surgery that had been prevalent in ancient civilizations found in Africa, South America and the Far East. This surgery is thought to increase blood flow to the brain thus making it function the way it does before the skull completely forms and hardens with age.
In this film we hear comments from those who have had trepanation by choice – and one who had it by accident – and swear by its benefits, as well as those in the scientific community who think it is a bogus and dangerous practice used by wackos who are just after the next high. It is a fascinating film that does what documentaries are meant to do: bore through the flesh and bone of a topic and explore its nooks and crannies in the pursuit of truth.
A Hole In The Head" Documentary Trailer
[Mark Kirby] Why did you produce this movie?
[Cevin Soling] I had read an interview with Paul McCartney in Musician magazine where he talked about having dinner with John Lennon, who suggested that they both get trepanned. Lennon was always on the look out for all sorts of ways to "expand consciousness" and exorcize demons while McCartney, who was also curious, tended to be more skeptical, as he was in this instance. Generally, interviewers always asked the same questions to the Beatles, and hence, gotten the same answers, so this reference to trepanation was fascinating for being an aberration in addition to its content.
The subject reappeared for me when I saw Donna Kossy’s book, Kooks, where she seemed to indicate that while the practice is extremely unconventional, there might actually be some benefit from it. That was the part that intrigued me since I am not interested in pathology or freak shows, but am fascinated by intellectual potential. After doing further research, I learned that skulls have been found all over the world with holes cut into them dating back as far as 10,000 years, and that these holes were made while the people were alive and most lived many years with a hole. There are theories as to why it was done, but it still persists as an anthropological riddle in the situations where it wasn’t done in response to head trauma. In addition, there weren’t any conclusive studies on the effects of trepanation on brain function and I wanted to see if there was a correlation and if, perhaps, this might have been a reason for prehistoric trepanation.
Spoiler alert: in this film you will see a lot of skulls with holes. Some are damn big, too. And there will be blood, so this film is not for those who are particularly squeamish. But the filmmaking style is so academic and unassuming, while still being entertaining, that you feel like you’re watching a BBC documentary and not some reality T.V. show. One never gets the sense that there is a filmmaker smirking at or mocking the people interviewed. This should be normal in a documentary but with FOX news, CNN and the advocacy style of Michael Moore (“Fahrenheit 911," “Sicko”) lowering or raising the bar, depending on one’s point of view, this fairness stands out, and refreshingly so.
[Mark Kirby] Tell me about the director, Eli Kabillio. How did he become involved in your project?
[Cevin Soling] Eli was a friend of a friend who I hired to do the camera, lighting and sound. I had the idea, and tracked down all the people and set up and conducted all of the interviews and did all the research. Once we completed filming, I had no idea what you were supposed to do next because I had no film background at that time. Eli was so intrigued by the project that he ran with it without any expectations for payment and oversaw the editing, including tracking down stock footage. Eli got the director credit even though the project was mine because of the post production work he did where he gave the movie its form. He also is responsible for getting it sold to Discovery, so I am very appreciative for that, too.
After that project, Eli and I became partners and friends. I don't think I have ever met anyone with his work ethic. He hardly ever sleeps. We worked together on a few more projects and then focused on our own things independently. In addition to the many films he directed and produced, he handled all the company business and has a family. Recently, we amicably went our separate ways and I formed Spectacle Films.
[Mark Kirby] How does this film project relate to your philosophical interests, especially Situationism?
[Cevin Soling] I think the goal of philosophy, or any intellectual discipline, is to improve the human condition. I see the Situationist movement as an attempt to raise awareness so people can improve the quality of their lives and trepanation is also an earnest attempt to find a way to improve one’s state.
[Mark Kirby] The people who have had the surgery in the movie are such characters. How did you find them?
[Cevin Soling] Those people were the pioneers. They were the first to study the practice and perform the procedure on themselves. Their names were easy to find since their efforts have been documented, it just took a bit of detective work to track them all down and persistence to get them to agree to talk on camera after they had been treated so unfairly by the press.
[Mark Kirby] The people who were interviewed seem sane and intelligent. How were they off-camera?
[Cevin Soling] Without exception, they were all incredibly friendly, generous, and enthusiastic about their lives in general. They are sane, intelligent, and warmhearted people. Some were initially guarded about discussing trepanation due to brutal press they had received in the past, and I was proud to present their positions without bias.
[Mark Kirby] How would a person who wants to find a doctor or hospital who is willing to do – or knows about – this procedure?
[Cevin Soling] Generally, they can’t and that is a big issue for the people who advocate this procedure. There was a doctor in Mexico who performed this on demand, but his practice got shut down as a result.
The Beatles interested in trepanation?
[Mark Kirby] Do you feel that the skepticism toward trepanation is rooted in actual science or is it part of our culture’s mistrust and disdain for consciousness raising and exploration?
[Cevin Soling] That is an excellent question. I think it is both. First, the science isn't there because it hasn't been something most researchers have had the inclination to study. This does not mean that science won’t someday prove (or disprove) the efficacy of the procedure. In fact, one of the people who had the procedure done has been spearheading research with a prominent Russian physician that has been yielding some promising results. Even if that research leads to an article published in JAMA, I don’t think there would be a response to make the practice available.
There are several reasons for this: one is due to what Thomas Kuhn described as the need for a paradigm shift with regards to scientific revolutions, and the other is that doctors are only trained to repair something that is not functioning properly. The notion of performing a procedure that provides enhancement is typically seen as taboo. Whether that harkens back to a response to Nazi medical experimentation or fear over opening a can of worms with regards to biological eugenics, there are certainly reasons for concern.
The argument levied against that by the trepanned is that the procedure is a corrective restoration of consciousness to the time before the sutures on our skull sealed around the age of eighteen. In general, though, consciousness is not seen to fall within the domain of the medical profession beyond whether you are conscious or unconscious. For politicians, the only socially acceptable way to alter ones consciousness is through religion.
[Mark Kirby] The subjects in the film and the filmmakers themselves specifically request that you don’t try this at home. It could be dangerous and is probably not covered by health insurance. Does it work? Check out the film and hear what the people who have done it have to say and judge for yourself. And remember this: medical science, at various times over the years has stated with complete assuredness the following concepts: black people have smaller skulls and brains than people of European descent, Puerto Ricans are a mongrel race with degenerate genes, women are emotionally unstable and depressed because they lack a penis, and insanity is caused by demons. Okay, that last one might be true.