Friday, January 11, 2008

Away From Her

Yes, I know, I have an abundance of positive reviews on this site. I’ve ordered the Tomb of Terrors 50 movie pack to help counter this, but the damnable thing has yet to arrive. When it does, though, I hope you’ll all have the proper amount of appreciation for the pain I’m willing to go through for your entertainment.

Entertainment is perhaps not the proper word to use in a review for this film, though pain certainly is. This is one of the most difficult to watch films I’ve seen in some time, as an elderly couple played by Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie finds it has to come to grips with the wife succumbing to Alzheimer’s. This is no standard Hollywood drama where they overcome difficulties and then rediscover each other and their love by the end, and it all works out well. The very nature of the disease makes sure of that. Instead, after a growing understanding that Christie is deteriorating fast enough that she needs professional care, she decides that she should be placed into a retirement facility so that her husband can be spared the pain of seeing her wither away. He is told when admitting her that they have a policy that the family must wait 30 days before they can first visit, so that the patient can get fully settled in, and when his 30 days are up and he shows up to visit, he discovers that she has largely forgotten him and has fallen in love with a fellow wheelchair bound patient there.

Such a story seems almost ripped from recent headlines. Back in October, the news reported that former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s husband, who is also in a retirement home for Alzheimer’s, has forgotten about her and found love with another patient there. She was happy that he’d been able to find love to help him cope with his condition, and here, while initially jealous, Pinsent eventually comes to the same conclusion, though his love and guilt for her still compel him to visit every day to make sure she is doing well.

To me, Alzheimer’s is possibly the cruelest disease imaginable. To have one’s mind slowly rotting away like that, slowly forgetting everything that made you a person instead of an object, is just an atrocity, and one that’s just as hard on caregivers. How are you supposed to care for a loved one when that loved one is slowly forgetting who you are? Their interactions with each other are just painful to see; she doesn’t quite remember him, but is still cognizant enough to know that she should, and so puts on the brave face of someone pretending to be okay when nothing is, while he spends most of his time in solitude, internalizing all of his pain in the apparent hope that such quiet stoicism will make everything easier on her. It’s a tender, sad, nicely understated work, and one that everyone should see.

Rating: ****

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