Monday, August 10, 2009

SMORGASBORG #4: Exoskeletons part C

Only a moment? Yes, that's it. Otherwise I'll go on and on about Stephen Sommers and how much I love The Mummy and Van Helsing. (I know three people who are going to stop visiting this blog after reading that sentence, but there it is: I love Sommers for his mind.)

And what a mind! That guy never fails to put at least two kinesthetically satisfying action sequences in his films. Watching GI Joe as a choreographer, I respond to the way the action is timed, plotted, and filmed. As a pathology teacher, and as someone who watches a doctor on TV, I can appreciate the way the Parisian chase scene would be physically impossible to survive, even with those exoskeletal suits the Joes were wearing. Does this ruin my enjoyment of the film? Absolutely not! I don't watch Stephen Sommers films for their realism.

The exoskeletal suits

Why couldn't the Joes endure an action-packed high speed romp through Paris in those suits? Well, I'm going to put this as specifically as possible while trying to stay sensitive to readers who want to enjoy this very enjoyable sequence in theaters near them. Those exoskeletal suits encase one head to toe, are reinforced everywhere, give the wearer supplemental visual interface with their environment, and enhance physical speed, power, and coordination. Plus they have guns build into the sleeves! The wearer of such a suit is one kick-ass cyborgian lobster.

But no matter how tough the suit is, the contents of the suit (meaning the person inside) are comparatively delicate. Even though a skull is pretty tough, the brain inside it is liquidy and fragile. It can slosh. When it does, the connective tissue holding your brain and its blood vessels in place can tear. That causes intracranial bleeding and injury. It's kind of like having a stroke. This type of injury is called a contrecoup injury.(1) Perfectly named if aquired during a ballistic Parisian chase scene.

Guess where that head is going

How do you slosh your brain? Get your body flying around the streets of Paris at the speed of traffic, and then stop suddenly. If you don't have access to an exoskeletal suit, get in a car and put on your seatbelt, or get on a motorcycle and put on your helmet. Kick up some speed, and drive right into a brick wall. It works practically every time(2).

Okay, I got sidetracked. Next time we'll do practical applications of the suit for paralysis.

1. Remember Terminator Salvation: Spoiler Alert #2? I also write about contrecoup there, if your curious.
2. Coup and contrecoup injuries can happen from a blow to the head, or through sudden deceleration. Either way, compressive forces act on one side of the brain, while shearing forces act on the other. Sometimes these injuries can be mild, but they can also cause coma, or death. For an excellent resource about traumatic brain injury, visit


  1. As usual, great stuff again ... but I think I just gave myself a contrecoup injury slapping myself to make sure I read right that you love Stephen Sommers AND "Van Helsing"!

    Must go ice brain now.

  2. Thanks Bill... Considering the nature of your injury, I'd suggest applying the ice internally through a single malt suspension. I knew this was going to be my most controversial post, all due to my love of Stephen Sommers flicks.

  3. Mr. Sommers doesn't make "flicks," he makes "cinematic landmarks." But please, carry on.

  4. I think you have to view the "armored super suit" less like wearing a thin covering of steel that hits a wall and more like wearing a locomotive that hits a cow and you're seated in the 6th car.

    I haven't seen GI Joe but I would assume the same conceit holds for it as Ironman...its not a super hard version of a football helmet. Its an exotic layering of materials and energy fields that transfer energy away or around the guy wearing the suit.

    It took years for Detroit to figure out that a car made out of materials that would absorb (and crush upon) impact was better for the occupant than something that stood fast but needed a hosing to remove the blood later.

  5. You make a good point because I don't know how much distance you need to decelerate a brain that has been traveling at extreme speeds.

    The main (and I'm sure there are others) difference between the Joe and Iron Man suits is that IM has jet-like thrusters that let him fly and slow down in the air. The Joe suits enhance physical strength and coordination but can't do any more for your body in mid-air, in terms of slowing speed, than you could do without the suit on.

    The suit would help your body decelerate when you hit concrete after plummeting through the air, but the ground will stop you pretty quick. So you'd have about the distance of your leg to slow your brain and not spill any of it.

    The crumpled hood will keep a brain from sloshing up to certain speeds, but if you have been going fast enough you get slosh anyway. And there's degree of slosh to think about...

    Excellent comment! I hope they provide us with a "relative safety deceleration velocity" explanation in the sequel, make it a plot point, and send us both a check!

    Oh! And I want to see the Joes punch through a cow! Now that would be exciting!