I love films with a good storyline. I like to settle down and watch attentively from the opening titles so as not to miss the basic premise or inciting incident of the plot.
As I tried to tune into the opening scenes of The Father, I was sure that we were in the flat of an elderly man (played by Anthony Hopkins) who is soon visited by his daughter (played by Olivia Colman).
As the story goes on, I felt I had misunderstood the storyline and we were actually in the daughter’s flat where the old man was staying.
But then I got confused about weather the daughter was divorced or still married.
And soon I realised… and shed a tear.
We were following this story from the father’s perspective.
And he was living with dementia...
The very clever device the Director, Florian Zeller, employed was to tell the story as seen through the lens of dementia, so we could experience the confusion and frustration felt by the father.
It’s a very moving film that those who’ve had a family member living with dementia may struggle to watch.
My parents both died young, in their mid-fifties, and this scenario is one I haven’t personally encountered.
However, I did have some close friends who were like surrogate parents, who lived into their eighties, who did experience dementia.
Previously, not really paying attention to the issue, I just felt uncomfortable and confused around people living with this medical issue.
But then encountering my old friends, sometimes in a one to one situation, I saw they were in many ways lost in their own home.
Trying to make me a coffee, my friend struggled to find the coffee jar in his own kitchen and apologised, saying he was sorry but it wasn’t his kitchen.
It was. He’d lived there all his married life.
As we sat down with our coffee, he became agitated as his wife had gone to the doctor and seemed to be taking much longer than expected.
I wondered if a trip down memory lane would help and reminded him of some of the wonderful days when our youth group had met in the front room we were sitting in.
It seemed to work. He calmed down a bit and remembered those days well.
But whenever the conversation paused he quickly became anxious about the absence of his wife.
Eventually she returned and he calmed down completely.
As they lived so far away this was one of very few encounters I had with them in their latter years. However, their daughters, also friends of ours, had to live with the situation everyday.
A few years back, I worked with my friend Fiona Palmer, who is Chair of our local Dementia Action Alliance. We did a series of dementia friendly walks with the local leisure centre, which I filmed for my YouTube channel. Fiona also used the videos I made, with clients who were unable to join us on the actual walk. The videos were great discussion starters for memories that people had of bygone days in the town.
I am thankful for the great work our local DAA does in trying to make our little town more dementia-friendly.
In a world so confusing for those living with dementia, a little kindness and patience goes a long way.
Sadly, dementia will touch the lives of so many at some point, perhaps through a family member or a close friend. It really is worth learning something about it so we can be better prepared.
I’m my opinion, a good starting point would be to watch the movie The Father, to begin to understand dementia from the first person perspective. I think it can begin to inform us of the kindness and patience and compassion that may be needed on our part.