17 August 2008 | writerasfilmcritic
A Nice Movie but a Woefully Inadequate Depiction of a Horrible Way to Die
I didn't bother to read any of the positive remarks about this movie because what the harshest critics have to say about its flawed depiction of the disease process is essentially correct and constitutes the film's most glaring flaw. It presents a woefully inadequate picture of Alzheimer's Disease, as anyone who has had to deal with it personally can well attest. I have read, however, that attachments between demented patients do occur and also that the disease brings out different aspects of the victim's personality, as one might expect -- people tending to anger in their normal lives become even more bitter and angry once they become afflicted. Similarly, naturally flirtatious or promiscuous people tend to exhibit disturbing exaggerations of that behavior, therefore, the story isn't entirely implausible, just unlikely. It is a nice movie when appreciated on its merits, alone. The main problem is that the writer and director used the disease merely as a prop to develop the plot, which didn't reflect reality convincingly.
Others have alluded to the incontinence, one of the most dehumanizing aspects of the disease, or the mental confusion and the increasing inability to speak sensibly. Another aspect is so-called short-term memory loss and its immediate effects. For example, I remember my father, a highly intelligent and purposeful man before he was diagnosed with the disease, sitting at the dinner table with his arms on his lap and banging them on the underside of the table because he forgot the table was there and he was trying to use his arms to make a gesture. He did this over and over again, each time saying, "Ouch!" then immediately forgetting that he'd just hurt himself and doing the exact same thing yet another time. It seemed to me that his arms were taking a real bruising but nothing much could be done about it. That was following the first round of serious deterioration in his mental faculties, when he seemed to be in good humor and had not yet turned bitter and angry and paranoid or become incontinent and far more confused. Just a year later, after more serious deterioration, he was dashing out of the house and running around my parents' wealthy neighborhood with his clothes put on wrong, scaring people he came across and being picked up and brought home by the police. The combination of not knowing what they are doing while knowing just enough to be both very slippery and a real danger to themselves is a very disturbing aspect of the disease. Only the wealthiest families like the Reagans can afford to keep the patient at home and hire expensive, live-in care. Most people are forced to sell the patient's home in order to afford the less-expensive care facility. Alzheimer's Disease is a terrible way to die, perhaps worse than cancer because it goes on for so long and just gets worse and worse. And these facilities, in concert with the doctors, treat the patients with powerful, potentially deleterious drugs in order to keep them under control, anxious to get them to the final stages more quickly where they are easier to manage and less likely to jump up and head for the door. In fact, the institutional staff obviously prefers them when they are further along, that is, in a wheelchair that can be parked, facing the wall for hours at a time. The loved ones of certain patients will bribe the staff members to give special (read minimal) attention to their afflicted relatives, while less fortunate patients are more or less ignored. The movie didn't adequately deal with this seamy reality, but then again, movies seldom do deal with death in a truly realistic and convincing manner. They tend to romanticize it or soft pedal it, which is what was done here.