Sunday, 11 May 2008

Away From Her again

The old man sent me an exceprt from a review of Away From Her on which got me thinking...

'As the daughter of a woman hospitalized with Alzheimers for ten years until her death, I can tell you from observing my mother and everyone around her that there are too many silly false notes to even detail here. Just for one, the idea that the woman is so far advanced that she is putting frying pans in the freezer, yet has the linguistic and cognitive skills to say "All we can aspire to is grace and dignity" is beyond ridiculous.

No film I've ever seen, this one included, has the courage to show what really happens -- the loss of thinking, language, personality, desire to shower and dress, the insistent repetitions or cursing or anger, etc. It isn't a pretty picture, like the one glamorized here, as if you need the warm fuzzy glow ("Let's make love before you leave!") to mist over. What really infuriates me is how over-the-top everyone has praised this because it's so "beautiful."'

Heartfelt though this is, and horrible though the descent of a person into that incurable otherness is, I think the reviewer misses several points to do with the nature of art and fiction.

The film was shot and acted very well - fact - so it's hardly fair to attack it for being beautiful!

Since it wasn't a documentary it is
also fairly immune to criticism that it was selective and unrealistic in its protrayal of the disease - after all, all drama involves suspension of disbelief. The Core was unrealistic in its portrayal of geodynamics, but that is just a frame for the action - a similar thing is true here. Away From Her says, "given this type of deterioration in this woman, married to this man, with this history, in this care home, what might happen?"

It's not really a film "about" Alzheimer's, but about the people, the loss, and about some features of ageing. Yes, there are elements of rosiness and sentiment, but I have seen many films that are more sentimental. It doesn't need to portray the sufferer exactly as she would have been in real life in order to raise all the questions and provide the drama and be as moving as it was. The closing action is quite astounding - at one level, pure Greek tragedy, at another a mere glimmer of false hope against the bleak landscape.

There is a place for a more 'realistic' film about Alzheimer's and for an exposure of care homes that are considerably less attractive than the one in Away From Her but I don't see why Away From Her has to be that film or that place. The demand for realism is very understandable, but I'm not sure it needs to be heeded here.