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The 10 Best Movies About Alzheimer’s Disease

26 December 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Pedro Bento

best movies about Alzheimer disease

Memory is the basis of knowledge. The process of memorizing is precious to human life as we know it and it’s quite simple: we collect experiences in everything we do and we use them in daily life, like an imitation game. It is intimately connected to know “what” and “how” a thing happens.

Without memory it would be very difficult for me to write a list like this, and it would be very hard for you to relate to things you saw and heard about the films listed here. Imagining ourselves without memory is a hard task and a very despairing one at the same time, but it’s impossible for healthy people to know how people lose memory and the difficulties it brings.

Unfortunately, a large number of aged people suffer of memory diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and has no cure, aggravating gradually until death.

Recently, the University College of London discovered that it is possible to be infected with Alzheimer’s disease by a blood transfusion, through brain surgery or through a case of medical negligence. The “dementia seeds” are in blood and are easily transferred into other organisms. Because of this, doctors forecast Alzheimer’s patients will increase significantly and, in 2050, one in 85 people will have this disease.

Nowadays, everything can be stored and memorized via technology gadgets, but Alzheimer’s disease remains one of the most worrying diseases to humanity, mainly because of the psychological suffering it causes in patients and their relatives. Perhaps because of this, it is a topic often explored in cultural products such as literature and cinema.

In the 21st century, many films about the disease were made and some enjoyed huge popularity. This fact can’t be dissociated to the dramatic intensity of a story about memory loss. It’s easy to sensitize the viewer. “Still Alice” is a good example of a praised film that received Oscar nominations.

This list is an opportunity to know everything about Alzheimer’s disease and to witness some absolutely magnificent performances brought by some very talented actors (some underrated). Besides this, you can always shed a tear, no shame about that.

 

10. Still Alice (2014)

Still Alice

This film tries to portray Alzheimer’s disease in a modern way. Unfortunately, it was just a try. Alice (Julianne Moore) is an educated, modern and accomplished woman, who has some symptoms of memory loss. Across the degradation of the disease, this film should be the ride of a perfect woman until she became a faint and dependent one.

Instead of this, the protagonist goes from “perfect woman” to “perfect woman with Alzheimer’s disease”. In short, this is the biggest flaw of the film: all the characters are perfect in an imperfect world. The other weak link is the lack of routine moments. The events seem very isolated from each other and suddenly Alice is totally lost in her world of dementia.

“Still Alice” was praised more because of its topics – Alzheimer’s disease and family support – than from its attributes as a motion picture. Julianne Moore is clearly above the line when compared with Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart (she needs to wake up someday), but she doesn’t reach the core of the character. At least not as Rosamund Pike does in “Gone Girl”, for instance.

Despite its flaws, this is a good picture for an introduction to the disease and its dramas. The final scene is a good summary of the film, emphasizing love as the cure to all problems. This is the message the film provides.

 

9. Away from Her (2006)

Away From Her

This Canadian film was very well directed and its camera movements are very interesting to follow. Sarah Polley isn’t well known as a director, but her few works show that she has some talent. “Stories We Tell” is another great example of her ability. “Away from Her” was a relatively unnoticed film in 2006, and it was an original winner in how it has many elements we’ve seen in other pictures, but the film itself is different from everything we’d seen before.

Polley also made it very fluid in terms of the narrative, which is difficult when dealing with a story that depicts deterioration from a disease. It is adapted from a book by Alice Munro, the Canadian Nobel Prize Winner and the story is told in medias res. At the start, Fiona (Julie Christie) already has signals of Alzheimer’s disease, so we never meet the healthy and normal Fiona, we just listen to her stories and memories.

There’s a proper language used to deal with the disease in this film, a kind of a philosophy of oblivion, which is very important in understanding its dramas. Grant, Fiona’s husband, is also crucial to the plot, especially once he starts to reject his wife’s disease and is later rejected by his wife because he turned into a translucent memory. The reading of “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro can be a good option for those who liked “Away from Her”.

 

8. The Notebook (2004)

The Notebook (2004)

In terms of tearjerkers, “The Notebook” is a little like “Titanic” and is perfect for romance lovers. The film delivers many instinctive laughs, sad events and some intense love moments, like the dance scene or the kissing in the rain sequence. For a love drama it is very complete, even in its corny elements.

The actors are not great, but they are competent. We feel everything could be a little bit better: the cast could be better, the direction by Nick Cassavetes could be much better, and even the novel by Nicholas Sparks could be more seducing. However, the film has an aura of a classic in this genre, because it’s exactly what its public wants from a motion picture: sentimental talk, a beautiful and impossible romance and stupid actions, like love should be on the big screen.

“The Notebook” tells the love story of Allie and Noah in long flashbacks. The couple is old and Allie suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, so Noah reads their story to her, trying to bring memories to her mind. The plot has some holes, but in the end nothing matters more than love.

It’s as though we have to shut off our brain to all the clichés: love at first sight; a poor boy and a rich girl; parents preventing relationships; Noah going to war; Allie becoming a nurse; meeting again years later. All build the “perfect” love film (it has everything except chemistry). Definitely worth a try, but is not advised for diabetics.

 

7. Memories of Tomorrow (2006)

Memories of Tomorrow (2006)

Highly compared with “Away from Her” and equally ignored, this Japanese film differs from others because it is told from the sick person’s perspective, like a first-person testimony about a medical condition. The film brings Mr. Saeki to the eye of the storm, when he’s diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and his whole career as a businessman stays in stand-by.

Ken Watanabe, known for his roles in Hollywood action films, leads the film with an astonishing and surprising performance, showing some hidden talents that I didn’t knew he had (his facial expressions, for instance). Watanabe was already a fan of the novel used to do “Memories of Tomorrow” and he insisted to star as the protagonist.

“Memories of Tomorrow” has that majestic Japanese way of storytelling that always impresses when compared with similar Western efforts. It’s difficult to put into words. Instead of focusing on familiar or romantic subjects, director Yukihiko Tsutsumi concentrates on Saeki’s career and his mind’s confusions and despairs. The disease is the epicenter of the plot, without sentimental sap or cheesiness.

Another motive of interest is related to Kanako Higushi (Mrs. Saeki), who creates an amazing partnership with Wanatabe and, being an unknown actress, delivers a great performance.

 

6. Iris (2001)

IRIS, Jim Broadbent,

Starring Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent and Kate Winslet, “Iris” tells the true story about British novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband. As we know, Alzheimer’s disease results in serious communication limitations, because speech articulation and vocabulary are progressively forgotten.

In this specific case we have a woman, whose career was as a communicator, losing her ability to do what she did best: communicate. Watching a vibrant and intellectual woman reduced to a pale shadow is afflictive and revolting and we assist in the first row to that deletion. In return, Iris is unconditionally loved by her husband, John Bayley.

The film is quite honest about the effects of this illness, both physical and psychological. We are invited to “feel” the disease, but also to think about everything beyond this degraded condition: the desires, dreams and motivations of the person with the disease.

Dench and Winslet match very well in Iris Murdoch’s skin, offering splendid performances, but above everything, honest performances. This is the main quality of “Iris”, the honest and sometimes depressing way of letting us know the characters from inside out, their flaws and their motivations. Again, love comes as an antidote to all problems and it works quite well.

 

 

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