Away From Her (Sarah Polley, 2006)
Category: Sad movie about Alzheimer’s disease. Named for the German doctor Alois Alzheimer, who “discovered” the disease in 1906, Alzheimer’s disease is described (on Wikipedia) as the most common form of dementia. (I feel like diseases are like continents. People don’t really discover them; they’ve been around all along. Yeah OK Columbus.) Alzheimer’s disease affects 26.6 million people worldwide, and most famously afflicted former president Ronald Reagan. I really can’t think of a sadder disease. Well of course all diseases are sad. I guess it’s not for me to say if it’s any more or less sad than, say, cancer. Hey here’s an idea: coming soon to this blog: a poll where you, the readers, will decide what the saddest disease is. We’ll do it like March Madness. I’m already preparing a list of sixty-four diseases. Look for diabetes to pull one of those sneaky 12-5 upsets. (Known tall man and friend of the blog Sam Fox-Hartin chimes in on this plan: “No. You cannot make diabetes the Gonzaga of this tournament. That is bullshit.” Thanks, Sam.)
Anyway. Alzheimer’s has also gained a lot of recent attention through its depiction in books and movies, including Iris and The Notebook. (I intend to watch the latter film for this blog, so as to prove to the ladies how sensitive I am. Also Rachel McAdams is way foxy.)
My familiarity with this issue: I am very lucky to not know anyone who has Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, I have been blessed with a very sharp memory. I say this not to mock, but to really express how much I can’t imagine having to deal with this illness. Memories are pretty important to us. Just about everything that’s ever happened to us happened in the past, except whatever’s going on right now, in the present, which will already be the past by the time you finish this sentence. It troubles me to think that I will one day forget how to play the piano, or what Bernie Williams hit in 1998 to win the batting title (.339). I cannot even think about the idea that I may forget the people I love: who they are, what we did together, and the reasons why I loved them. So thankfully, short of the things I’ve read about this disease, it has not touched my life in any personal way as yet.
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Fiona and Grant are an Ontario couple who have been married for over 40 years. Now, in the oncoming twilight of their years, they are forced to face the fact that Fiona's "forgetfulness" actually is Alzheimer's disease. After Fiona wanders away and is found after being lost, they agree she must go into a nursing home. For the first time in the five decades their relationship has spanned, they are forced to undergo a long-time separation since the nursing home has a 'no-visitors' policy for the first 30 days of a patient's stay, so they can adjust to their new surroundings.”
What I thought of the movie: A bit slow, but really good. And sad. Ohh the sad. Bleak too. The acting is really quite terrific. Julie Christie, who was a real looker back in the day (HOTCHA HOTCHA), really knocks it out of the park. And Gordon Pinsent, who I had never seen in anything before, is great too, as a man whose wife is gradually being replaced by a stranger. They are totally believable as people who have been married for forty-four years, something that is probably really difficult to convey in a two-hour movie. The story is more interesting than just your standard Alzheimer’s story, too. That sounds kind of mean; I just mean that it’s not just a story about how the wife has Alzheimer’s, it’s more generally about their marriage and stuff, too. Interesting stuff, and really brought off well by the actors.
How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: For a movie about old Canadian people, I actually related it to pretty well. The way the movie depicts the disease feels natural; even though I don’t have any personal experience with this illness, it feels like the way this is the way this sort of thing happens. It’s probably generally true that when a movie is written and acted well, we can relate to it even if we don’t have any personal connection to it.
The real important thing for me, and this may sound weird, was these were some good-looking old people. We’ve touched on Julie Christie and her ‘60s hotness, but she’s doing well even now. She rivals Helen Mirren in her silver foxiness. I decided shortly into the movie that I want to look like Gordon Pinsent when I get old. What a distinguished looking dude. Look at that beard! That’s quite a beard. How could you forget a beard like that? That might have been an insensitive remark. I’ll stop now.
How I felt after the movie: Pretty sad. Alzheimer's really sucks. There's really not much more that I can say about it without getting sadder. I think it’s best not to dwell on something like Alzheimer’s, or any disease really. We know that they exist, and that one day we might be unlucky enough to have to deal with one of the really nasty ones. But in the meantime I think we should embrace our healthiness (even those of us who have diabetes). Also, please submit your suggestions for sad diseases in the comments. We’re so doing this.