From time to time I drop into the local cinema on my way home from work on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s half price movie day and I take a chance on whatever turns out to be on offer when I pitch up. It’s a pretty random thing to do, but that’s part of its appeal and I’ve ended up seeing a number of films that I would almost certainly not have gone to see intentionally. The bad ones are improved by an ice-cream, the good ones leave my mood improved no end and the challenging ones make me think. Sometimes they make me cry.
This was one of those weeks. The film was The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins as the main protagonist (Anthony) and Olivia Colman as his daughter (Anne).
Reviews describe this film as Hopkins’ performance of a lifetime and a ‘devastatingly empathic portrayal of dementia.’ I found it beautiful – and desperate – and heart breaking – and confronting – and altogether too close to home. The overwhelming feeling was of watching a mind coming undone, experiencing Anthony’s increasing confusion and disorientation and never knowing quite what’s real and what’s not. It was unsettling, to say the least.
MiL often tells us that she finds her life both frustrating and confusing. She says she feels unmoored, as though all her familiar anchors are drifting out of reach – or are no longer recognizable. We nod sagely, sympathise and support, feeling that we understand – at least to some extent – what she means. Having read up on Alzheimer’s disease, we know it progressively destroys memories and abilities and that it’s irreversible. So her feelings aren’t unexpected.
But this film put some of those conversations into a more relatable context. Writer-director Florian Zellar catapults the audience into experiencing Anthony’s shifting realities with him – both those inside his head and in the world around him. We end up about as confused as he clearly is as we all try to make sense of the conflicting situations and information. It was uncomfortable. As was the realisation that my ‘understanding’ of MiL’s situation is, at best, limited.
On my way home, Dylan Thomas came to mind. ‘Do not go gentle into that good night,’ he says. And I couldn’t agree more. Anthony’s almost violently expressed frustration and fear, confusion and uncertainty seemed all too reasonable. He should rage, rage against all the points of light going out for him, day after day, leaving him less than he was.
Any day in which MiL feels connected to her life in some way, rather than a confused passenger waiting for the right stop, is a good one. And no matter how pragmatic I am, how full that half-full glass can be made to seem, it’s a desperately sad thing to watch dementia claim someone dear to us.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light!