Hollywood unfortunately makes precious few movies about people with dementia or Alzheimer’s. However, as more and more people are diagnosed with a memory disorder – one in nine Americans over 65, or 6.2 million people – a great many of us will be touched by these illnesses.
While the film industry may not yet accurately reflect the number of Americans dealing with a memory disorder themselves or love someone who is, these movies each tell a story about dementia or Alzheimer’s with compassion, love and empathy.
Away From Her (2007)
Julie Christie stars in this movie as Fiona, a woman in the early stages of dementia who decides to check herself into a memory care facility. After confronting her husband Grant about his past infidelities on the way to her new home, he becomes suspicious she may have decided to leave to punish him for cheating on her. After a while, she falls in love with another resident, Aubrey, forgetting who her husband is. When Aubrey returns to his home and his wife, Grant decides to try and reunite the pair to make Julie happy. For spouses of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, this is a sad but relatable tale about losing your spouse to either disease.
Hanging Up (2000)
Written with a touch of humor by the brilliant Nora Ephron, “Hanging Up” is primarily about the relationship between three sisters, played by Diane Keaton (who also directed the film), Meg Ryan and Lisa Kudrow. However, it’s their father’s (Walter Matthau) slide into dementia that’s the catalyst for the story. When their parents’ behavior becomes unmanageable because of dementia, the complicated relationship among the sisters is mirrored by each of their equally complex relationships with their father.
Still Alice (2014)
This heartbreaking story of a brilliant linguistics professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease isn’t an easy film to watch. And yet, the Academy Award-winning brave and honest performance by Julianne Moore as the professor and the excellent supporting cast, notably Kristen Stewart as one of her children, make this a must-see for anyone who loves someone with Alzheimer’s. Family and friends need to remember who the person was they’re now caring for, and this is what Alice wants—not to be forgotten for the accomplished academic and loving mother she’s been.
The Savages (2007)
What happens when your estranged, abusive parent grows old and needs your help? This is what the Savage siblings, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, have to confront when their father’s girlfriend dies. Though they haven’t spoken to him in 20 years, they’re suddenly responsible for him. His dementia prevents him from caring for himself, and the siblings have to grapple with the fact they must put him in a nursing home, despite their unexpected emotional responses and sense of guilt. As with “Hanging Up,” the movie focuses on the siblings, but their father, his decline, and their responsibility for him are catalysts for many moments of personal reckoning in this thought-provoking story.
The Father (2020)
Olivia Coleman plays Anne, the daughter of Anthony Hopkins, who won an Academy Award for this role as Anthony, an older man succumbing to Alzheimer’s (and angry and upset by his decline). When Anne tells her father she’s moving to Paris and leaving him behind in London, his decline accelerates, and he becomes less and less lucid. What this film does so carefully and thoughtfully is take the viewer inside the mind of someone dealing with Alzheimer’s and the rapid deterioration Anthony is experiencing. It’s an important film for anyone wondering what it’s like to be a victim of dementia or Alzheimer’s, and it gives insight into the fear, anger and confusion they deal with every day.