Last night's television: A wake-up call for the bigots

BodyShock: the Man Who Slept for 19 Years C4 Kilroy: Behind the Tan BBC3
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The Independent Culture
"I'M A hillbilly and proud of it," said Terry in BodyShock: the Man Who Slept for 19 Years. You'll get no argument from me, Terry, or Julia Harrington, either, the director of Channel 4's account of patients recovering from deep coma. She opened her film with a visual celebration of rural squalor. There was the bass boat, half-sunk in a local pond; there was a rusting car bogged in the woods; there was the battered trailer and the pick- up truck. And there, just to cap it all, was a picture of Terry and his 15-year-old bride, Sandy. The snapshot was 20 years old, but for Terry it literally could have been yesterday. After a serious car accident, he had been left in a coma for 19 years and still thought of himself as a 20-year-old. The young woman who helped to look after him was his daughter, Amber. Unable to process the fact, Terry kept trying to talk her into bed, a hillbilly tradition that Amber patiently resisted.

Curiously, there is a family just like Terry's in Clint Eastwood's new film, Million Dollar Baby. Eastwood presents them, with politically correct bigotry, as venal and stupid, reacting to the serious injury of a family member as an opportunity for a lawsuit lottery win. Angilee and Tammy, Terry's mother and sister, offered a very different picture of redneck priorities: stubbornly resistant to the doctors' insistence that Terry would never have any kind of life, and finally vindicated when he came round (and, to the experts' astonishment, started talking). Part of Harrington's film followed the family on a trip to a New York neurological hospital where doctors hoped to find out how Terry had pulled off this unprecedented reboot.

Despite its National Enquirer title, the programme was about more than Terry's story, including several other case histories of neurological damage. Easily the most poignant of these was Roy, who had been left emotionally numb by a car crash, unable to feel any strong emotion for his young son or his wife. He wasn't distressed by this, because he wasn't really distressed by anything anymore, even his own violent outbursts. His wife, in deep mourning for a man who was still alive and sitting next to her on the sofa, was insistent that her marriage vows held. "We'll just have to tackle it head-on," she said. They were perhaps not the happiest choice of words for a situation that had actually been brought about by violent frontal impact. The emotional revelation of the film was that love can do astounding things; the scientific revelation was that human anatomy is not well-adapted to sudden deceleration, since the frontal lobe tends to slide forward over a series of sharp bony ridges on the inside of the skull that rasp away the fine detail of personality. Evolution simply didn't see the car coming.

Watching Kilroy: Behind the Tan, I couldn't help wondering occasionally whether Robert Kilroy-Silk had suffered frontal-lobe damage at some time in the past. Certainly he seems to have impaired inhibitions and defective powers of empathy. Emeka Onono's delicious film followed the Orange Ego to Strasbourg, as he took up his post as an MEP for the UK Independence Party - and proceeded to destroy its chances of capitalising on electoral success in the European elections. What an appalling shower of saloon-bar bigots and petty jingoists they are - and yet, Kilroy-Silk managed to stand out as something special. His wife, Jan - a kind of Lady Macbeth of Ladywood - muttered and sulked in the background, rightly aware that her husband was not going to look good in the end result. But she could hardly accuse Onono of leaning on the scales. All he did was stick close to his subject and take advantage of a political operation so incompetent that it couldn't even do its backstabbing behind closed doors. Fantastic.