'The Creative Brain' Review: Mapping Out Attainable Enlightenment

With Dr. David Eagleman as their guide, Jennifer Beamish and Toby Trackman's film cleverly and fascinatingly reveals what the human brain is capable of.

the creative brain documentary

With fast-paced imagery depicting the creative process and introspections representing different spheres of creativity, including architecture, music, cooking, and teaching, Jennifer Beamish and Toby Trackman‘s The Creative Brain cleverly and fascinatingly reveals what the human brain is capable of.

Dr. David Eagleman is our leader down the path of least resistance when it comes to creativity. He is a neuroscientist and author fascinated by the brain’s immense, everyday feats of the human imagination. In this film he sets out to illustrate the main pillars and functions of the creative brain. His guidance within the film is clear and to the point, so much so that at times it veers heavily on being reminiscent of high school science videos.

The film follows a very simple outline, using each member of a realm of creativity as a conduit for explaining what the brain is doing in that creative process and how to harness it the way the subjects of the film do. What really makes The Creative Brain so fascinating is Eagleman’s out-of-left-field impressions of creativity. He doesn’t just talk to simple artists, he talks to engineers, architects, biologists, performers, writers, creators. He makes clear that creativity encompasses more of our lives than we think.

Claire Bousher, better known by her stage name, Grimes, is a musician thinking outside of the proverbial box through her alter ego. She talks about herself both as Claire and as Grimes, noting that being the latter allows her to make mistakes, create art, and try new things.

Then there’s pop music artist Kelis (“Milkshake” ring a bell?) The singer-songwriter is now also a professional chef, and by changing career paths and forcing herself into something that was uncomfortable at first, she was able to access that spark and sow something new.

One of the film’s most compelling interview subjects is actor Tim Robbins. His appearance is in relation to his role in the film The Shawshank Redemption, but not how you would think. He spends much of his time nowadays working alongside prison inmates in acting workshops in California. He says they are not defined by their crimes but as who they are as humans. Those involved in these creative rehabilitation programs are said to be 80 percent less likely to re-offend.

Author Zachary Lazar is also working on prison rehabilitation through creative outlets. He helps hone the writing skills of those who, before being looked at as human beings by Lazar, were boiled down to only their worst mistakes. He gives them an opportunity to speak their truths despite how society may see them.

Fearing a lack of originality is no excuse, either, according to novelist Michael Chabon. “I think originality is bunk. I think it’s nonsense. There has never been such a thing as true originality. It’s in the play with convention that originality arises. It’s not in the rejection of convention, to me.” If you’re stuck, look around, he suggests. It’s as easy as opening your eyes to the creative world all around us.

Other artists interviewed for the documentary include Game of Thrones co-creator D.B. Weiss, former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, Grammy-winning pianist Robert Glasper, Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, Oscar-winning Return of the Jedi and Jurassic Park visual effects icon Phil Tippett, and legendary singer-songwriter Nick Cave.

With each subject’s appearance, the film grows more and more compelling, acting as a roadmap for anyone looking to enhance their creative abilities. Eagleman elucidates that roadmap of the creative brain and shares where in this world creativity lies.

“Creativity is not about making something out of nothing,” Eagleman argues. “Instead it’s about refashioning what already exists.” It is about us fighting our brains’ urge to veer toward familiarity by digging deeper, pushing boundaries, and staring failure in the face. Those are the three simple ways to harness your creativity. He cleverly breaks down the issue at hand by touching on each of these ideas separately with the help of his influential subjects, illustrating the importance of each intellectual habit.

“In this way, we can take advantage of what it is to be human, to drink in the world and produce something, anything, that has never existed before.” Eagleman makes it clear that it’s innate in all of us — and it’s achievable.