Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hollywood Alzheimer's.

I recently ran across an essay that made me simultaneously laugh until I cried – and think. The essay was about romantic comedies and how trite and sometimes annoying they can be. Characters act in unlikely ways, or have problems that are amazingly easily solved, emotional events happen quickly and are wrapped up nicely, a character has a terrible disease and is healed or inspires the world, etc. The writer writes about certain characters having what she calls, “Hollywood Alzheimer’s”, speaking in particular about a film I won't name, but her description cracks me up. 

“…(the actor’s) preppy shagger acquires sudden depth because his dad has Hollywood Alzheimer’s. A gentler variant of dementia, Hollywood Alzheimer’s does not cause you to take a s**t in a shopping center or shout ‘Are you an Arab?’ at the district nurse. Hollywood Alzheimer’s sufferers bark the odd non-sequitur but drift into lucidity long enough to deliver homilies about finding your one true love, and to help their sons nail (the female character.)”

First of all, I thought this was absolutely hilarious, because it is so right on about how Hollywood and the media portray dementia (and it’s also really well written!) I know there have been a few movies with characters with dementia, which I suppose we should be grateful for, but Hollywood really does have this magical thinking about dementia and how it manifests and what it’s like to live with. They always seem to portray it as a gentle withdrawal, a long, sad, stylish goodbye – which it can be, but more often manifests as yelling, delusions, incontinence, and agitation!

Granted there have been a few really good films on this subject, such as Iris and Away From Here, both of which, I believe, portrayed a more realistic view of living with dementia. Kelsey Grammar played a powerful man beginning to suffer from Lewy body dementia on the television show, Boss, the first media mention, I might add, about LBD. And I know there’s Oscar buzz about Still Alice, which was an excellent book before it was a movie. In fact, my local news stations keep digging up families that have been affected by dementia to say how good they think Julianne Moore's portrayal is.

But how soon will the topic of living with dementia sink back into obscurity once the award shows are done or the TV shows are over? And why can’t we consistently show something on the big screen or TV that really seems authentic, and why can’t we make it so the lives of caregivers and care receivers, and the struggles they go through, is out there in vivid color, clear to everyone? Maybe it would bring them some much needed help!

I know, I know, it’s Hollywood, it’s escapism, it’s all fiction. And it is true that it is bringing some sort of awareness to the huge problems of aging, and illness, and dementia, and caregiving – but is it good awareness if the portrayal is completely false. I just wish it could be a little more close to the truth, to how it really is. Does the viewing public really need to be so sheltered from what is a very real life experience – one that they themselves might experience? We should be shown the reality of something that is so life-changing, so that the right kind of awareness can be brought to bear, and the right kind of help – financial, governmental, medical, etc. – can begin.


  1. I assume you mean Still Alice? ;)

    I watched it and thought it was very good (have also read the book), but really hated the movie ending.

    The bit where she can't find the bathroom was really the only "smack in the face" part for me - and even that was pretty mild in comparison to the reality of dementia we all face in the real world...

    I suppose whatever raises awareness is a bonus, and if it were too realistic no-body would ever want to go to see it!

  2. I know we should be grateful and you know what really happens would be too real, but we can hope!