Thursday, September 29, 2016

Comments on "Still Alice" and "This Boy's Life", films

A few nights ago, "Still Alice" was watched here on HBO.  It had been seen almost two years ago when it opened and at the time was seen as special.  A new viewing last night saw not only some new provocative aspects of Alzheimer's that had not been noticed in the film before, but also some new thoughts about how shallow the film is in some ways.

What was newly noticed, on the insightful side, was the comment on the effect of medications, none stopping the progress of the disease but possibly effective in the amelioration of the symptoms short term.  That was known but not fully appreciated at the time.  Also, and completely overlooked before, was the impact on speech which is apparently ubiquitous with this disability.  To still be able to understand others, but to not be able to get the words out, reminded me of ALS.  A doctor here says that there is no relationship, although for the patient it is surely the same dilemma.  That we know. While the perceived wisdom of the medical community is that dementia diseases do not cause death, the film does depict the radical increase of fatigue and withdrawal from life that occurs, certainly a form of death to a family if not to physicians.

What is now seen as somewhat superficial in the film was the family impact and dynamic.  Everyone stays basically the same.  The husband of Alice continues his life work unabated, with only a few nuisance events.  The children stay on the tracks of their lives, excluding one scare that is unexplored. What is missing is the actual physical pain of the sufferer and the complete exhaustion and frustration of the caretakers.  Other than a feeling of loss, where is the sense of regret and resentment of the afflicted person.  Where is the pain of trying so hard, so hard, to act normal to provide a facade for friends and family that ultimately does not work.  Where is the anger at this outcome by family and caretakers that must be restrained.  Where is their complete exhaustion?

It's a good film, a timely film, but there must be better ones out there in the past, or someday soon.

"This Boy's Life" debuted in 1993.  That was in year two of a period of at least 12 years when only a few choice films were seen here, or even noticed.  It was the period of all corporate work leading to periods of a few weeks of all out vacation intensity.  No rest in either mode.

So this film on a Starz network was completely new late last night.  It is the autobiographical story of the childhood of Tobias Wolff, a once popular writer whose work was a little less than brilliant.  This life story led to his fame, and it is certainly a testament to his will to succeed in life.  The players in the film are exceptional.  Leonardo DiCaprio at a young age plays Tobias.  There was no knowledge of him as an actor in 1993 but there he is.  Ellen Barkin is his mother in an attractive role as a down on her luck beauty who enters into a marriage of compromise, then complete deference.  Robert DeNiro as the step father plays the most despicable role in his career it seems.  His depiction of Tobias's father is truly that of an awful self centered person.  One cringes at his every scene in the latter parts of the film.

The only reason to keep watching this multi-faceted melodrama was the fact that it was based on a true life.  It was watched and was not exactly a film that led to a restful snooze.


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