In Focus

Can pain be painfully funny?

A scene from the film “The Pain of Others.”
A scene from the film “The Pain of Others.”(Penny Lane)

They feel like insects are crawling inside them. They have lesions and fibers emerge from their skin.

The three women suffering these symptoms are featured in “The Pain of Others,” by documentarian Penny Lane (“Nuts!,” “Our Nixon”). They are among those who claim to suffer from Morgellons disease. But few doctors, if any, acknowledge that the illness is real. 

Isolated and denied credibility (perhaps significantly, almost all are women), they resort to putting diaristic videos on YouTube in which they talk about their daily ordeals and discuss far-fetched, possible cures — drinking urine? shaving your head? They share these with other victims and have formed an online support community.

In the film Lane edits together clips from these videos. The result is fascinating, revolting, sad, and funny. And it makes you think about the fine line between voyeurism and empathy.

Lane talked about the film from her home in Brooklyn.


“The Pain of Others” screens as part of the DocYard series at the Brattle Theatre at 7 p.m.. on Oct. 1. The filmmaker will be present for a Q&A moderated by Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr.Go to

Interview was edited and condensed. Peter Keough can be reached at