Mandatory Movies: 7 Dementia Dramas So Good You Couldn’t Possibly Forget Them
A recurring theme of the past year has been that of dementia. At least seven movies, including one documentary, have revolved around the insidious disease (even Shameless’ Frank is losing his marbles). Actually, dementia isn’t a disease but rather a group of symptoms caused by many different diseases. Regardless, most of us have known or loved someone who’s dealt or is dealing with mental decline and memory loss. To be one of those suffering, to look at the face of someone you’ve known and loved for years and not know who’s staring back at you, is unfathomable. So, why would anyone want to watch a film about dementia?
We often shun uncomfortable stories to protect ourselves from harsh realities—an experience equatable to pulling teeth. According to the World Health Organization, more than 5 percent of the population (over the age of 60) has some form of dementia, and diseases affecting the brain are projected to triple by 2050. Despite it being a common ailment, perhaps out of fear, it’s still stigmatized and largely ignored. Given the toll it takes on so many, conversations and emotionally resonant depictions of it are more necessary than ever.
Much like 2014’s aptly-titled, Still Alice, this year’s films like The Father have brought the subject back to screen with a vengeance; trying to not only show us not only the person who was but the person who is and what they experience. The Father in particular aligns its lens with the inflicted rather than viewing their symptoms from an outside perspective. It’s terrifying, the idea that what we need is each other and, unfortunately, we may not always be there, even when we are. Hopefully, we grow to understand more about dementia, learn to recognize it, and better adapt to it. Hell, let’s cure the fucking thing (aging in general). For now, the year’s deluge of dementia dramas can help to normalize, accept, and deal with it.
Cover Photo: Sony Pictures Classics
Stanley Tucci plays Tusker and Colin Firth plays Sam, his dedicated lover. The pair embark on a road trip hurrah through England's Lake District as dementia starts to take hold of Tusker's mind. The actors offer up innate and inimitable performances worthy of the film’s heartbreaking subject matter.
'Dick Johnson Is Dead'
Kristen Johnson’s documentary focuses on the story of her father, Richard, who suffers from dementia. Playing along with his daughter’s dark humor, Richard portrays the different ways (most being accidental) in which he could ultimately die. It’s a bittersweet celebration of mortality, for better or worse.
Anthony Hopkins plays a man suffering from dementia, trying to make sense of his aging mind, and the fabric of his reality. Olivia Coleman plays his daughter, just trying to help. What’s unique about The Father is that it’s told from the perspective of Hopkins’ character; it comes off as confusing (other characters’ faces change/become unrecognizable, etc.). That said, it’d be easy to screw up this approach but the result is devastatingly effective.
Written and directed by Viggo Mortensen, Falling follows John Peterson (Mortensen), a middle-aged gay man, whose 80-year-old conservative father, Willis (Lance Henriksen) begins to show signs of dementia. Therefore, John brings him to Los Angeles to live with him and his husband.
Erika James’ first feature film adapts her personal experience of watching a loved one succumb to Alzheimer's ala a Gothic horror movie. That’s right, the story of Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote), who go searching for their family matriarch and find that something dark looming over both Edna (Robyn Nevin) and her home, is a terrifying allegory for dementia; grieving someone who is spiritually gone.
'The Artist's Wife'
The Artist’s Wife protagonist is Claire (Lena Olin), a talented painter who’s also the wife of a famed artist, Richard Smythson (Bruce Dern). When her husband is diagnosed with dementia, Claire is tasked with hiding his condition from the art community, contact with his estranged family, take care of him, and decide whether or not to step into the spotlight herself.
'The Roads Not Taken'
Elle Fanning plays Molly, the daughter of Javier Bardem’s Leo, whose dementia results in a hallucinatory journey through alternate lives he could’ve lived. Molly, an outsider to all of this, must grapple with the chaos and come to terms with her future and that of her father.
Mandatory Movie Battles: Who Will Win, Kong or Godzilla?
Visit the Mandatory Shop for great deals on your very own Mandatory merch.