I can still remember my first trip to the cinema. The Astoria in Purley. A double bill of East of Eden and HG Wells’ First Men In The Moon.
We only went because my brother wanted to, having read the original. He moaned it was nothing like the book. Took the gloss off the experience in truth, but it didn’t stop it sticking in my mind. The queuing, the smells, the odd red edged torches of the usherettes as they showed us to our seats, the mind expanding sight of the big screen as the curtains rolled back. It was really a sensory overload, so much so I doubt I’ll forget it
Yesterday we went back to the cinema for the first time in 15 months. We wore masks, queued at a respectful distance, entered the auditorium via a door I didn’t know existed to ensure a one way system was followed (mind you, this was as nothing to the weird way out that took us via the neighbouring cemetery…) and took our seats with nervous glances around. It felt like a first time of sorts and I doubt I’ll forget this one either, for very different reasons (though cinemas still seen to have their own odour… and the adverts remain self indulgent wastes of time…)
And then we settled in to this challenging, compelling film. Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Coleman, Olivia Williams and Imogen Poots give a tour de force in truth but this is entertainment on the edge. It’s a hard watch.
Any film about dementia tends to play about with time to give the audience some understanding of the sufferer’s experiences, but the director probably achieved this as well as any I’ve seen. And it hurts. As it happens a close relative is experiencing the early stages of these most crushing of diseases so there were a number of poignant and breath stopping moments of recognition and realisation. One of the genius elements in this film is to communicate the terrifying disconnect this disease wrings out of the sufferer. We rely so much on the use of memories to tell our story, to give context. We take a memory and build from it and on it and the journey that is our lives make some sort of sense. We remember the family home, the move away to work or study, the shared flats with friends, the homes we move through. But if something goes missing, if one move conflates with another how do you root yourself? In my experience the loss of that connection leads to many moments of untangilable confusion and Hopkins has the same problem, one we gradually unpick, in ways he can never do.
The devotion of the daughter, the pain for her, the difficulties of her husband trying not to blame and yet… it all held me captive.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t really enjoy it. Not in the sense of being uplifted, taken to another place. No, that’s not quite true. I was taken deeper into places I’d prefer not to go, but I’m so glad I went. It gave me a certain clarity, a way of thinking I’d perhaps ignored up to now. Films aren’t just entertainment or education; they can be self revelatory too.
It’s a fantastic film but not one if you’re looking for escapism, to be taken to a happy place. But if you’ve seen dementia first hand and want help understanding it, or want as good a way of accessing some of its pitfalls and pratfalls, then this will be a must for two hours. If they allow it, take wine… or ice cream. You’ll want a treat…