Electric Malady tells the story of William, a man who suffers from an illness that he attributes to electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). Living in an insulated cabin in a remote Swedish forest and swathed in sheets lined with copper, William is cut off from the outside world, dependent on his friends and family and unable to receive proper medical care due to the contentious nature of EHS as a legitimate condition in the eyes of the medical community.
Marie Lidén’s film explores intimately the effects of William’s condition on his life, documenting his shifting emotional states as well as the physical limitations imposed by his living arrangements and illness. The grief he feels for the life he once had is palpable; despite his family being on hand to support him, he is profoundly alone, living in darkness both physically and metaphorically.
William’s unique circumstances make creating a sense of closeness difficult: in addition to being largely confined to a cabin and covered in thick sheets, he can’t handle being too close to a digital camera and gets fatigued very quickly. But director Marie Lidén rises to the challenge, focusing on the small details she can shoot to foster a connection, despite the overwhelming isolation that his circumstances necessitate.
While the documentary largely serves to highlight its subject’s suffering, great care has been taken in the editing and camerawork to ensure these depictions aren’t self-indulgent or voyeuristic, placing the human rather than the condition at the centre of the story, and ensuring William can represent himself with dignity. The topic of hope is something that also comes up a lot, and, although this young man’s situation is dire, there’s a constant undercurrent of optimism that permeates and refuses to die down, even in the face of great suffering.
As a piece, Electric Malady isn’t interested in the debate around whether EHS is physical or psychosomatic, and doesn’t ask its audience to pick a side one way or another. What it does ask viewers to do is empathise with someone suffering in very real ways, and it does so with a careful and compassionate hand, illustrating the complexity of William’s situation and giving him agency over his life’s narrative without judging or patronising.
Electric Malady is released digitally on demand on 3rd March 2023.
Watch our interview with director Marie Lidén here:
Watch the trailer for Electric Malady here: