Dementia and the Movies

During a lavish ceremony tonight, many will fawn over the best movies of the year. I could do without the glamour, but I love films because they nourish the creative aspect of my writing. I also search for movies that deal with dementia, seeking those that capture the truth of the disease.

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Last week I went to see the film Quartet, which got much attention because it was directed by 75-year-old Dustin Hoffman and showcased a spectacular cast.  My biggest complaint is that I had to sit through a hailstorm of shoot-em-up previews before the quiet, reflective feature began.

I ended up enjoying the film because the actors were so good. The story revolves around a group of elderly friends living in a home for retired musicians. The script was not too clever — ten minutes into the film you can guess the end. But the relationships feel true because the actors are so accomplished. Maggie Smith plays the diva who is now thrust back in the company of a former love she once hurt. Tom Courtenay plays the wounded lover with great subtlety. Characters also include Cecily — played by Pauline Collins —  a singer in the early stages of dementia.

It’s strange that although the characters discuss the pains of old age in great detail, they limit their discussion of Cecily’s illness to two or three lines. This seems very weird since everyone I know who has observed a friend’s early dementia symptoms wants to talk about it and fears what’s coming next. In that regard, this film comes nowhere near a movie like Away From Her, which is far more honest about the impact of dementia on close relationships. Nevertheless, I’m glad to see that a film about a retirement home did not leave dementia out of the story line. You know it has to be there because, at this point, it’s everywhere.

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