Before I launch into a diatribe about what’s wrong with the depiction of Alzheimer’s disease in this movie, I want to first say that I love this film. Other than a couple scenes where the filmmakers completely ignore the realities of Alzheimer’s disease, this movie is really enjoyable. I do think, however, that many people have incorrect ideas about Alzheimer’s because of this movie.
While they do the disease justice in some parts of the movie, there is one scene in particular that ruins it. Unfortunately, I could not find a clip of this part, but there’s a scene where Noah is reading to Allie in her room at the nursing home. Suddenly they are dancing together and she remembers him. In fact, not only does she remember him, but she seems to come out of this Alzheimer’s “fog” completely.
“How much time do we have?” she asks, fearful of returning to this Alzheimer’s state. He explains that she’s been “gone” for so long and that last time “they didn’t have long” before she returned to her Alzheimer’s fog. This is ridiculous. Alzheimer’s disease, or any type of dementia for that matter, is irreversible (at least as far as science is concerned for the present time.) Although this part of the movie is very upsetting, it just isn’t realistic. Yes, people with dementia do have moments of greater lucidity, but no one shakes the disease completely for five minutes. The way that the movie portrays the disease is that it’s a sort of mask people live behind.
Here’s the scene that I’m talking about:
Allie: I remember now. It was us.
Noah: It was us. It was us. Oh, my darling.
Allie: I love you so much.
Noah: I love you, Angel.
Allie: What happened to me?
(You know, because Alzheimer’s is just a fleeting disease)
Noah: Nothing. You just went away for a little while.
Allie: How much time do we have?
(Because she’s suddenly aware of time constraints)
Noah: I’m not sure. Last time it was no more than five minutes.
(They dance and hold each other in this ridiculous moment of zero Alzheimer’s)
Allie: How are the children?
Noah: Oh, they’re fine.
(She remembers that they have children and that their children have children)
(They reminisce about the good old days and how fast time flies)
(Then, all of a sudden…)
Allie: Wait a minute…why did you call me darling? I don’t know you.
(And then everything gets out of control and she flies into a fearful rage)
The first time that I saw this movie, I believed that this was how Alzheimer’s worked. I didn’t know any better, and I hadn’t begun to study and learn more about dementia. Now I understand what’s wrong with this depiction of Alzheimer’s, but most people do not. So often our culture promotes movies and TV shows that don’t do disease, sickness, and mental illness justice. (I have a lot of problems with “Silver Linings Playbook,” but that’s a completely different story.)