An insider’s view of Alzheimer: cinematic portrayals of the struggle for personhood

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Amir Cohen-Shalev
Esther-Lee Marcus


This article looks at three recent films in which a person with dementia is the principal character. These films have been chosen according to the following criteria: representing different stages of dementia (early, moderate and advanced); films where the demented is the protagonist; and films challenging the biomedical view of dementia. Two of the characters are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease: the protagonist of Cortex (2008) is at a moderate stage, the one in Pandora’s Box (2008) is diagnosed when already in advanced stage and the third, the protagonist of Old Cats (2010), while not officially diagnosed, is in early onset of dementia. While the number of dementia films has significantly increased during the past decade, only a few access the subjective world and acknowledge the personhood of people with dementia. Made outside the mainstream film industry, making elaborate use of cinematic image and metaphor, these films, each in its own particular cinematic idiom, succeed in conveying the psychological, social and spiritual realities of dementia as they are experienced from within the protagonist’s psyche. While not denying the often bleak and painful aspects of dementia, these recent productions go against the grain, inspiring a complex, richly nuanced picture of dementia that centres around the protagonist’s stubbornly courageous struggle to forge a meaningful existence even in the direst of circumstances. These films, we believe, offer a richer and profound understating of the human aspects embedded in the phenomena of dementia.


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