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The Independent Critic

Barbara Klutinis
The Kennedy Family
Running Time
18 Mins.

 "Severing the Soul" Review 
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"Severing the Soul" may make you despise the Kennedy family or, minimally, the family's patriarch, Joseph Kennedy.


The film is a heartbreaking exploration of the patriarch's decision to have his then 23-year-old daughter, Rosemary, undergo a lobotomy in an effort to "control" her mild mental retardation that had been reportedly causing disruptive issues with her burgeoning sexuality and other behavioral issues. His logic? He didn't want to see the family's reputation ruined.

Oh yeah, I'd HATE to see a Kennedy with a reputation for loose morals or bad behaviors.

That would really suck.

Needless to say, "Severing the Soul" angered me greatly and from that perspective it's a remarkably successful film. Centering itself on the case of Rosemary and utilizing lost video footage that may reduce those in human services to tears, "Severing the Soul" also recounts the origin of psychosurgery in the 1930's until it fell out of favor in the 1960's.

Living in a state where de-institutionalization is largely the rule and community living is the rule for even the most profoundly challenged individuals with developmental disabilities, it's difficult to even comprehend the mindset that could have authorized and agreed to psychosurgery on a young, vibrant women with "mild" mental retardation.

While it has been widely acknowledged that Joseph never, in fact, consulted with any other family members prior to the surgery, this doesn't lessen the pain. Indeed, even his own regrets years later can't lessen the pain of knowing this young woman was reduced to a practically infantile state and institutionalized for the remaining 63 years of her life to save her family's reputation.

Emotionally powerful and containing a wealth of information presented in such a way as it's easy for even lay people to understand, "Severing the Soul" is a reminder of how far we've come in a relatively short span of time in the humane treatment of those with physical and developmental challenges.