There’s a film from a few years ago called Away From Her, starring Gordon Pinsent & Julie Christie. IMDB tells me it was made in 2006. I waited quite awhile to see it because the subject was very close to home. A family member had developed Alzheimer’s and died in 2010. The DVD had sat on the shelf unopened, too painful to contemplate until earlier this year.
The irony of that wait was that when the film finally turned up on the small screen (that DVD) , it didn’t resemble a story I knew or could recognize, a struggle like those in this family. But of course there’s not just one story, anymore than there’s only one case of the disease. Every case is different, and the impact can reach into families touching everyone. Away From Her didn’t resemble this family’s struggles enough to really speak to us. I found it puzzling, even if the performances seemed to be good.
There’s another film concerning Alzheimer’s. It’s called Still Alice. It won Julianne Moore the best actress Academy Award half a year ago for her portrayal of an afflicted linguistics professor. I say all that because I just watched it. The Alzheimer’s in this film –early onset Alzheimer’s, hitting an intellectual in their early 50s—was a very different sort to what we saw develop in this family.
Where Alice gradually had trouble remembering, Still Alice recalls the disease rather well.
Where Alice gradually had trouble speaking, Still Alice speaks eloquently.
Throughout the film I experienced flashbacks. There was a moment in the film to do with incontinence, reminding me of that visible expression of shame that you couldn’t forget, that you wished you didn’t have to see, as well as moments of family members struggling to understand, struggling with judgment and subsequent guilt. There was the bewildering collision between who the person had been and who they’d become, the startling transformation from someone strong and impressive into someone lost and vulnerable.
There’s a dynamic I saw in Still Alice that spoke to me about my own issues with a disability, the fakery of someone trying to fit in, concealing their ailment to avoid pity. My attempts to cover up a limp or bad posture are as nothing, however, compared to the struggles of someone with Alzheimer’s. This is the nastiest disease for what it does to you. You’re not you anymore. The family can’t mourn in the usual ways because there’s a body-snatcher at work, stealing you away even as you continue to live after a fashion.
I will watch it again tomorrow. I recommend this film to anyone who has been afflicted, but also to anyone who is simply curious. There were a great many moments with the ring of authenticity, a familiarity that was both comforting and disturbing, often at the same time.