LOVE AND DEMENTIA

On 31 Jan 2021, at 17:49, Rina Rosselson <rinaross@mac.com> wrote:

Why is it that the film Amour is often quoted in reviews of Still Mine?  And do all stories with old couples fall into the same genre? Isn’t Still Mine also a film about dementia? It is not quoted generally in lists of films about dementia… 


Stephen Holden in the New York Times July 18, 2013 “Still Mine,” like Michael Haneke’s “Amour” and Sarah Polley’s “Away From Her,” is an old-age love story told with minimal sentimentality. But he is one of the few critics of the film who does mention that the “aged couple is at the centre of Still Mine.”

Dementia, Alzheimers, the words cover many different aspects of these conditions but the general  emotion they stimulate is one of fear.   For me this film is one of the best about early Dementia in the life of a couple.

Still Mine is a realist film about Craig and Irene in a changing world.  The main interesting characteristic of the film is how the dementia in one partner and the changes in the farming circumstances affect the lives of the couple without changing their loving relationship. The advice to partners who become carers is often that they should keep a life of their own and this is well portrayed in the film. And this is why it is possible for me to examine Irene’s story separately from Craig’s.   A farmer, Craig is forced to quit his work and decides to build a one storey house for his wife who has fallen down the stairs and is showing signs of early dementia. He does not consult the authorities in spite of warnings from his friend and neighbour and is brought to court. Meanwhile Irene’s dementia is starting to deteriorate.  
The film in all its characteristics is extremely true to life. It is said to be based on real life.


The physical appearance of the old couple. There are many close-ups with lined faces and old bodies of Irene and Craig. While Craig is tall and powerful, Irene is small and delicate. The naked bodies are shown discreetly and briefly in a fews scenes.  Their sexual lives are revealed in a nude scene.    Take off your clothes I want to look at you old man. The couple embrace naked. Some scenes of conversations in bed are also intimate and warm. But eventually problems occur.   

First signs of dementia:  I will not elaborate on the children’s relationship with the couple. Generally the son does not want to intervene in his father’s decisions while the daughter keeps suggesting a diagnosis first and then to investigate homes for Irene. The first signs of a creeping dementia are not observed by Craig.  It is the daughter who asks her father to request the doctor’s advice. But he forgets to ask and declares a clean bill of health. At the beginning Craig finds some excuses :  She has her good days and her bad days, that’s all. She’s fine. 
It is when Irene fails to recognise their own cows escaping through the fences and when she leaves an oven glove on the stove that Craig comes to term with the fact that she may be losing her memory.  What did you do to our kitchen ? I didn’t do anything to the kitchen. You left an oven mitt on the stove. Oh, don’t be ridiculous. I didn’t. Yes, you did! 
Her fall down the stairs inspires him to build for her a one storey house. He has the skill to do so as he has been taught by his father who was a ship-builder. But he has big trouble with the authorities who want to  control the proceedings… One evening, because he is a bit fed up and she does not seem to understand the situation, he gets annoyed, leaves her to her knitting and goes upstairs.  In the lounge downstairs she caresses her wedding ring and in the next shot we see him do the same.  It is the only scene when Craig is shown as irritable.  After this scene we see her sitting knitting next to the building where Craig is working. 
 

 How could I have forgotten that? I’m sorry. I wasn’t gone that long. Don’t do that again. 
After Irene falls down the stairs, she considers herself lucky not to have broken her hip and is optimistic about the future.  Craig sticks notes on the doors of the whole house  to remind Irene of their function.   I won’t forget.

 Of course you won’t but just in case

Easy, easy. I told you I was in the shop.

Irene gets very frightened when she is left alone and  panics.  
Irene? What’s wrong?  Where were you? – I called you, but you didn’t answer. I didn’t know where you’d gone.

Intimate conversations in bed: while her short term memory is deeply affected, some of her conversation show a very keen awareness of her needs and worries.  Long term memories (over 30 years ago) come to the surface. 
Demand not to be moved  :  No, I’m not moving into town. Irene demands an assurance that they will not move away from their home and that she will not be placed in a retirement home (the preferred solution suggested by their daughter).  And you’ll have to shoot me before you find me in a retirement home. Promise me one thing. Mm-hmm. We won’t move until we have to  Fair enough.
Worry about loss of memory . Irene does not remember the reason for moving the bedroom into the living room and worries about it. Craig reassures her telling her that it is the result of her fall. So you can’t remember a couple of things, so what? We’re still here. We have each other. And isn’t else a bonus? I hope so.
Fear of the future and recall of painful past memories and worry about being betrayed. You know what scares me? What if I forget everything? You’ll still be my Irene. Promise?
Then follows a long conversation about Bernice, a very clever friend.  It is not clear whether Craig had an affair with her or not as he is open about his admiration for her. He avoids a clear answer.  At Irene’s insistence he declares that she died 30 years ago. This changes Irene’s jealousy to pity. But she insists that she would not tolerate  it if he had an affair….
 I still will.What? Leave you if you cheat on me.
A very warm and loving hug.  

Next sequences show Irene deteriorating. She leaves the house on a long trip to the beach. Evening. Craig is washing up. When he finishes he cannot find his wife anywhere and with the car goes round to find her.  She is at the beach smoking a cigarette in rapture at the beauty of the sight. She seems more confused than usual and cannot remember how she got the cigarettes after 50 years of non smoking. She looks absent to her husband and declares she would like to come to the beach more often and utters in French “ C’est beau” .( Is French her first language?). He persuades her to get her into the car. Irene seems to be more confused and irrational than she has been up to now and they drive home in the dark. She falls asleep. 

When they arrive at the house Craig tries to wake Irene up and to get out of the car.


Irene behaves in violent aggressive way and refuses to go into the house. She fights, makes funny noises and  even bites him.  It is dark and cold and Craig has to force her. She trips on her shoe and breaks a hip. 

Hospitalisation

A brief scene at night at home and cut to her hospital  bedside. She wakes up. 


You have never bought me roses. Roses? They’re from an admirer. You never bought me roses, never before. You never broke your hip before.broke my hip? Because your husband is a fool.The surgery went very well.


Later in the hospital I have been looking for you. Where were you?   I came this morning came from the house What house ?…I missed you . I missed you too. How are you doing  I ve been better  Me too.  She cries….sobbing


Funeral of friend : Brief scene shows that Irene is sensitive to other people’s emotions. At the funeral of the neighbour, she puts a caring hand on the shoulder of the widow, while Craig cries.  


The last scenes show Craig finishing the house and putting in the furniture.  


News in the papers: No jail for Craig 


He is seen thinking,, sitting in a chair in a fully furnished room. Irene arrives with the help of a walking frame. She caresses his hair asks him how long since his last haircut.   Been a while …She puts the towel around his neck. He  gives her the scissors with a smile. The usual? For a split second we see only her looking from an empty chair through the window with a view of the sea. Craig calls her : Irene? you are cutting my hair? She asks for the second time : How long since you had your hair cut?  
He replies with a patient smile: It’s been a while. 
He smiles. She kisses his head. 
========
The film is very complex in its subject matter and cinematography. Rather than writing a detailed study I wanted to show  how Dementia can be portrayed in a fresh way . It can be seen as a guide of how to understand and communicate with a partner with dementia.

About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
This entry was posted in Ageing, ageing couple, alzheimer, care, care homes, carers, dementia, documentary, Film Analysis and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.