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Dementia in Film: Anthony Hopkins in ‘The Father’

Over the past two decades, and especially in recent years, filmmakers have used their medium of choice to produce compelling and exceptionally realistic depictions of the effects of dementia on an individual and their loved ones.  From Dame Judi Dench in Iris to Julianne Moore in Still Alice, depictions of the struggle, exhaustion, and emotional toll incurred in the months and years following diagnosis have been lauded, if not for the performances, then for the devastating impact they elicit.

Often, however, these struggles are viewed as a conflict to be managed as part of the broader film, with the focus typically being on the most prominent symptom of dementia, memory loss.  The latest entry in the list of films depicting dementia, 2020’s The Father, differs in that it portrays the condition not only in the context of the significant emotional responses that it elicits, inclusive of memory loss, but also as a shared experience across all members of the individual’s inner social circle, including the individual themselves.

A recent op-ed in the Toronto Star by author and gerontologist Dan Levitt posits that the film offers a distinctly more personal narrative, and one that is perhaps uncomfortably relatable to those who have experienced it firsthand.  Levitt contends that the film does not shy away from depictions of raw emotion that span the spectrum, from denial to anger, distress to depression.

To those who have experienced that range of emotions firsthand, or have been called on to counsel or advise those who have, those experiences are often held out as the most challenging and difficult experiences to manage.  The film confronts these experiences and, as Levitt notes, does so with a view to bringing broader attention and compassion to the shared experiences between patient, loved ones, and caregivers, and to create a more positive public discourse.

Thanks for reading, and congratulations Sir Anthony Hopkins on a well-deserved award.

Garrett Horrocks