I was about to write about Away From Her when I caught a surprising article in the Guardian online.
FACING THE FEAR : CINEMA FINALLY CONFR0NTS THE REALITY OF DEMENTIA by Nicole Davis
I have been diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer and Vascular Dementia a year ago. I realise now from remembering some incidents that the illness had started at least 3 years previously without me or anybody noticing it. I have experienced from afar my father’s tragic trajectory. But in my blog about old women in feature films I have avoided examining in detail films about dementia as I did not to wish to equate old age with dementia.
I find it difficult to understand Davis’s article. I will not comment its title as I suspect it is the concoction of a newspaper’s sub-editor. I needed to read it many times to follow what the author is saying:
I’ve yet to see a film that sufficiently gets to the heart of what it means to watch a loved one lose their mind to dementia. Those that have garnered attention and awards over the years (Still Alice, Iris, Away from Her), while incredibly affecting, are suffused with a worthiness or restraint that somehow neglects the dementia that I have witnessed. There are some notable exceptions: Michael Haneke’s Amour and Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages do well to convey the more savage aspects of the disease.
Davis starts by declaring that Haneke’s Amour is about dementia. It is impossible to agree with this pronouncement. There is nothing in Amour to confuse this complex film about a loving couple with dementia. It is about a woman suffering a series of strokes, her carer husband, euthanasia and finally suicide. It has nothing to do with dementia. As for The Savages there is no exploration of the savage aspects of the disease. The two children of a demented unloved father find themselves responsible for his welfare.
She carries on by praising and quoting a new documentary film just released on Netflix. Does she know the difference between documentary and fiction? She goes on by praising a feature film this time. A horror Australian film that seemingly dwells on the “terrifying aspects of dementia”. She describes the hallucinatory aspects of the disease etc…
Other films not yet released in London are quoted and praised. I cannot pronounce on any of these films as I have not seen them but her arguments about the films she writes about seem to mix documentaries with feature films and compares these films with her experience of losing a loved one to the illness.
Still Alice “manages to avoid the uglier symptoms of the disease. ….. Unveiling the uglier elements of dementia is important. We need to see the worst of the illness to know what we’re up against”… “The most sinister part of films like Still Alice is the suggestion that a life with dementia is not worth living.”
It seems that she does not appreciate that there are many different kinds of dementia, that they vary with the individuals they affect, both those who suffer from the disease and those who care for them. Films about the illness cannot explore all of its many aspects in one screening.