Dementia and cinema aren’t any strangers. But with circumstances predicted to soar, the topic is coming into better focus. Meet the filmmakers whose daring and artistic visions are remodeling our understanding of the situation.
“Who wants to watch a film about dementia?” Kirsten Johnson will get your reluctance; the author, director and cameraperson has been there herself. “I remember someone tried to show me a dementia video when my mom first got it and I was like, ‘f–k you.'”
Whether you have had contact with dementia or not, watching a movie about it’s a confronting expertise. Shunning these tales is an act of self-protection, she argues.
Johnson’s mom Catherine developed Alzheimer’s, the commonest type of dementia. Before she died in 2007, Johnson recorded her mom with the situation, and used footage in her 2016 documentary “Cameraperson.” Then her father Dick started to develop signs. They knew they wished to work collectively on a movie about it, however precisely what that movie would appear to be was unclear.
“I knew the version of grappling with all this that was only about grief. Only about crying. Only about loss. I knew I didn’t have the capacity to do it that way again — it was going to kill me,” Johnson says. “I needed cinema to help me … because I knew I was going to live through this.”
Johnson’s phrases will chime with viewers, lots of whom have seen variations of this “version” on display screen: The anguished husband or spouse watching a partner decline (“The Notebook,” “Away From Her,” “Amour”) or the misery of an excellent thoughts lower off on the knees (“Still Alice,” “Iris,” “The Iron Lady”). They’re practically at all times dramas, whereas vital reward is usually framed round efficiency, and a movie’s capability to depict dementia and its fallout with accuracy. That’s to not dismiss such films — a few of them are wonderful — however you would be hard-pressed to name their storytelling modern.
Dick Johnson and daughter Kirsten on a Halloween-inspired set in “Dick Johnson is Dead.” Credit: Barbara Nitke/Netflix
In 2020, nonetheless, issues modified. Not solely was there an inflow of movies about dementia, the strategy taken by some has been nothing in need of radical. Authenticity, as soon as a badge of honor, has been rejected by sure filmmakers, who’ve discovered different paths to articulate dementia’s summary qualities.
“If we’re going to see difficult things together, we have to prepare each other for it,” says Johnson.
“Cinema and dementia … they are mirrors of each other”
Johnson settled on comedy for her movie, “Dick Johnson is Dead.” “It’s sacrilegious to laugh at death and to laugh at dementia,” she says. “It felt like an act of defiance.”
The movie weaves parts of fiction into documentary as father and daughter got down to “kill” him in a sequence of violent stunts. And although Dick will get resurrected every time, additionally they think about the results of his loss of life. He gatecrashes his personal funeral and events within the afterlife, this retired psychiatrist proving the pure showman. These scenes sit amongst candid footage of Dick on the physician, relinquishing his automobile, packing up the household dwelling, however by no means dropping his chipper humorousness. It’s wry and delicate, joyful and grief-stricken, and full of love.
A stunt in “Dick Johnson is Dead,” and Kirsten Johnson directing her father. Credit: Netflix
Dementia, Johnson contends, is inherently cinematic and “incredibly creative.” She talks about it altering her mom’s notion of shadows, turning them into holes within the floor, and her father believing her condo was an airplane cabin.
“What’s so exciting about cinema in relation to dementia (is) they are mirrors of each other,” Johnson says.
“Cinema is a series of fragments of images and sounds and music, put together in an order that allows us to experience emotions,” she says, including that cinema features in the same option to human consciousness. “(It) takes in all this perceptual information and orders it and makes some sense of it. It’s also predicated on what matters to us, or what we believe to be true.”
Aligning a movie’s lens with the particular person with dementia and exhibiting their reality, reasonably than viewing it from the surface as signs to be mined for dramatic impact — this seems like a departure for dementia on display screen. But we’re beginning to see it.
“It’s almost impossible to act dementia”
Actor, director and author Viggo Mortensen has watched the evolution of his mother and father’ dementia in recent times. He poured these insights into “Falling,” a fractious drama about Willis, a bigoted father (Lance Henriksen) within the early phases of dementia, resisting the assistance of his son (Mortensen). It hits some acquainted beats, however the director says there have been nonetheless alternatives to enhance how dementia is represented.
“Most, if not all, movie depictions of dementia tend to show us a person who is confused,” Mortensen wrote Source in an e mail. “In my ample personal experience, those who actually are confused most of the time are the observers, not the person with the disease.”
“We tried to present as accurate a representation of dementia as possible, showing a confused Willis only when absolutely warranted, and usually provoked by interference or correction from other people,” he provides.
Lance Henriksen and Viggo Mortensen as father and son in “Falling.” Credit: courtesy Modern Films
The activity was difficult for the movie’s star, Henriksen. “It’s almost impossible to act dementia,” he admits. As the caustic father raging towards the dying of the sunshine, he provides a bombastic efficiency tempered by frailties that everybody besides Willis can see.
However, Henriksen highlights the unassailable hole between performing and actuality: “it’s all the ramifications of (dementia), but not the thing itself.” Acting has its limits. Presenting an inside view of dementia is aided by different parts of filmcraft, and it is on this space that probably the most thrilling developments are going down.
“The Father,” Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his play a couple of daughter (Olivia Colman) caring for her father (Anthony Hopkins) makes a cat’s cradle of time. Instead of continuing in a straight line, occasions double again and bear revision, every time creating a brand new current extra unsure than the final for Hopkins’ character (additionally referred to as Anthony).
Left: Peter Francis’ set for “The Father” was redressed in a number of methods within the movie. Right: Anthony Hopkins as Anthony, the lead in Florian Zeller’s movie adaptation of his personal stage play. Credit: courtesy Peter Francis/Trademark Films/Sean Gleason/Sony Picture Classics
It’s disorienting and more and more distressing to look at as Anthony pinballs from one room and one dialog to the subsequent, changing into progressively unmoored.
“The reality for the person with dementia is their reality — you can’t deny it,” says Karen Harrison Dening of Dementia UK, who has consulted varied productions on translating the topic to display screen.
“(It’s) something that clinicians grapple with,” she provides. “Whose reality do we respond to? Do we live in the person’s reality or do we try to shoehorn them into our reality?” Praising “The Father,” she says that aligning the viewpoint with the dementia affected person “challenges the viewer to think what this (experience) might actually be like” and may be “so powerful.”
“Horror is the perfect genre to talk about fear”
Writer-director Natalie Erika James goes additional nonetheless. In “Relic,” her debut function, she makes use of horror to pressure this angle on each audiences and the movie’s supporting characters.
“Relic” facilities on three generations of girls in a single household, introduced collectively when the matriarch goes lacking. Edna (Robyn Nevin) is not lacking for lengthy, however when she is reunited together with her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote), the youthful girls are confronted together with her erratic conduct.
Robyn Nevin as Edna in Natalie Erika James’ debut function “Relic.” Credit: Jackson Finter/Signature Entertainment
The home is tormented by creeping black mould and is stuffed with muddle (the director says she was impressed by a go to to her grandmother in Japan who had Alzheimer’s and had taken to hoarding). As Edna’s dementia intensifies, the mould spreads and the basement is remodeled right into a dank labyrinth. Her granddaughter, trapped inside this proxy for the situation, should battle her approach out because the partitions press in. It’s a terrifying, empathy-building train throughout generations on display screen, and with viewers too.
“Horror is the perfect genre to talk about fear,” James says. “Being able to play in the surreal is something that really appeals to me. And, because of the commercial bent of the genre, it can help you to reach a broader audience sometimes as well.”
Writer-director Natalie Erika James on set (left) and with cinematographer Charlie Sarroff capturing scenes within the slender labyrinth that turns into Edna’s dwelling in “Relic.” Credit: Signature Entertainment
Finding a large viewers is one thing Kirsten Johnson achieved when “Dick Johnson is Dead” was picked up by Netflix. It’s an enormous platform for what’s in some ways an avant-garde piece of cinema — and the diploma of experimentation may not be obvious to audiences. Because Johnson did not simply search to mirror dementia, she determined to contain it within the artistic course of.
Editing befell all through manufacturing. Dick, she says, “was the editor who always saw material from a fresh perspective,” forgetting the final time he noticed the film and generally forgetting he was watching a film altogether. But he at all times supplied notes. Johnson and co-writer/editor Nels Bangerter regularly re-cut to drag the movie according to that suggestions. In some circumstances the unique sound was redubbed to echo Dick’s reminiscences, and the chronology is intentionally blurred.
By shuffling the timeline with out signposting she is doing so, Johnson manipulates our studying of occasions. It means the Dick she presents seemingly escapes the development of his dementia. It’s an phantasm conjured by cinema, however removed from a gimmick; it is an act of virtually insufferable want achievement. The movie, Johnson says, grew to become a option to “keep my father alive forever, but also sort of put him back together.”
Dick, the topic of “Dick Johnson is Dead,” on the set of a fantasy sequence used within the movie. Credit: Barbara Nitke/Netflix
“We have a duty of care, whether we’re the clinician or a film producer”
It’s not a coincidence that we’re seeing so many movies about dementia, says Johnson. “We’ve gone through an incredible period of time in which people are speaking about traumas that have not been spoken of.”
She believes dementia has adopted the same path to put up traumatic stress dysfunction and sexual violence, as supportive on-line communities have emerged and courageous folks have spoken out publicly, regardless of the potential for backlash.
Diversity of voice can be essential; dementia on display screen has been criticized for centering on privileged characters. Subjects are nonetheless predominantly White, however new movies are bringing contemporary views. Kristof Bilsen’s current documentary “Mother” examines caregiving with nice poignancy, selecting to profile each Maya, a brand new resident at a house in Thailand for Western expats with Alzheimer’s, and Pomm, her Thai live-in carer.
Chutimon (Pomm) Sonsirichai — seen right here caring for Elisabeth Röhner — is profiled in Kristof Bilsen’s documentary “Mother.” Credit: courtesy Limrick Films
A movie about capitalism and financial inequality as a lot because the illness, Johnson served as government producer. Institutional caregiving has come into sharp focus for her since Dick — who regardless of the title, may be very a lot alive — moved right into a care facility. “It is ripping me up,” she says. “I feel so bad I can’t take care of him anymore.”
“(Caregiving) is literally one of the hardest things to do as a human, but we’re not talking about it,” Johnson provides. “Talking about dementia affects the power structure. We’re paying people not a lot of money to go through hell to take care of people.”
Advocacy arose in practically all of the interviews for this function. The hope is that by means of elevated illustration, some change may come for a set of ailments that, on a medical stage, stay devastatingly inexorable. If artwork cannot remedy dementia, it could actually at the very least assist reframe how it’s mentioned.
Viggo Mortensen directs Laura Linney and Lance Henriksen in “Falling,” a movie Mortensen additionally wrote, acted in and scored. Credit: courtesy Modern Films
“(It) is still the most feared disease,” says Dementia UK’s Harrison Dening. “We’ve got an awful lot of people struggling with a diagnosis of dementia and living with dementia. We have a duty of care to them, whether we’re the clinician or whether we’re a film producer.”
Mortensen says films have an essential function to play, “promoting communication, provoking a debate, adding to the conversation. But they can also, through the stories they tell and the people they portray, simply remind us that we need not live alone with our fears and our doubts.”
“The more you understand about the disease, how to recognize it and adapt to it, the better for you and the better for others.”
“In some moments of our lives we have to protect ourselves from things,” says Johnson. “But I’m not protected anymore. It’s happening. What helps me is community. What helps me is sharing it.”
So, let’s ask once more. Who desires to look at a movie about dementia?
Is this the oldest story ever instructed?