|Photo by Franz Johann Morgenbesser.|
I prefer realistic depictions of people closer to my age. Life involves so much more than sexy young adults chasing after criminals, robots, aliens, or each other. I'd rather see an art house film starring mature actors in their midlife or late life.
Consequently, I was eager to watch Amour (2012) directed by Michael Haneke (pictured on the left), knowing that it was a film about a mature couple dealing with the wife's declining health. Haneke most likely drew on personal experience of his beloved aunt's failing health to make the film.
I have watched many films about the harsh realities of aging, so I didn't flinch when placing this film in my Netflix queue, even after reading some reviews that spoiled the ending.
However, I will not be recommending this film as a study in how to manage the challenges of late life. After I watched it, I had insomnia for the remainder of the night. And then I chewed on the film for another week. Now I'm writing this in an effort to achieve some peace of mind.
The film focuses on the challenges Georges and Anne face as Anne suffers a stroke, then complications from surgery, then more serious disability after a second stroke. The film has a tightly narrow scope in setting, characters and action. The vast majority of the film is set within the confines of their apartment. The vast majority of the action focuses on Georges' minute-by-minute work to care for Anne, often wordlessly. As the film progresses, the claustrophobia quality of the film becomes overbearing--for Georges, for the viewers.
Even though Amour offers realistic depictions of the challenges of caregiving, it purposely slams shut any escape routes for overcoming obstacles.
Anne refuses to receive institutional care. Anne resists any visitors. Anne resists psychological adjustment to her disability, refusing visitors and even refusing to look into a mirror. Their only child provides no practical assistance. Neighbors provide nominal assistance with shopping but offer no emotional support. Georges fires one of the caregivers. Georges doesn't consider placing Anne into a facility even briefly so that he can have respite care. Georges does not seek counseling or a support group or independent activities to replenish himself. Georges constantly pushes himself to have no physical or emotional limits to his caregiving.
This leaves the audience feeling trapped inside a hopeless situation with no exit but death.
Yes, I realize that advanced age sometimes presents options that leave us choosing the best out of horrible options: exhaust family? exhaust finances? medicate the dying into oblivion? neglect or abuse the disabled person even in the smallest ways because of limitations of time or money or resources? assisted-physician suicide? Pray for a miracle that may not come?
How many people die without suffering first?
Yes, I realize that there exists outside of this film real, mature couples who take extreme measures when dealing with catastrophic health problems. Yes, I do understand (but may not totally agree) with arguments for art depicting violence: realism, catharsis, analysis, or even consciousness raising. Yes, I do value realistic films because they generate sympathy for caregivers. Yes, I do see the filmmaker's desire to embrace controversy and ambiguity in order to make the viewers squirm so that they spend hours, days or even weeks contemplating the issues presented in the film.
Nevertheless, I am frustrated by Haneke's art, his artifice, his artificial world inhabited by the octogenarian characters Georges and Anne. I suspect this is Haneke's intention: he built their relationship with the intent to disturb.
Film Critic Oliver C. Speck makes this observation about Haneke's filmmaking:
“One thing that runs through everything in his work, in terms of both form and content, is ambiguity,” Mr. Speck said. “We as an audience want closure, we want the whole represented seamlessly, without questions left open. But he makes sure we understand that the totality cannot be represented, and that if somebody says he can, he is either a liar or a fascist.” (qtd. by Larry Rohter of the New York Times)Well, Haneke's aim was achieved, but I don't agree with his aim. He is an artist who can live in a world of ambiguity. I used to teach college literature and had the luxury of entertaining hypothetical problems for the sake of expanding critical thinking about the the quandaries of the human condition.
Now I'm a gerontologist. I offer information and support to people facing age-related challenges. I have to pin down meaning enough to act. Haneke might call me a liar or a fascist, but action requires a commitment to some sort of reality, even if it's constructed. (And my humanities training leads me to confess that people construct the majority of their reality.)
Does life imitate art? Will more caregivers enact violence upon their loved ones after watching Amour? Or does art imitate life? And the amount of violence is going to remain constant because the film is just a mirror? Is it even possible to delineate the influence flowing only in one direction in our media-saturated culture? Probably not.
Whatever your opinion, I invite you to artfully create a world that has more options, more lines of support, and more hope.
While I certainly do not have an exhaustive understanding of the ways caregivers and those with disabilities can seek help, let me suggest these palate-cleansing books and resources:
- Dass, Ram. Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying. Review
- Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie. Review
- Sheehy, Gail. Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence. Review
- Peck, M. Scott. Denial of the Soul: Spiritual and Medical Perspectives on Euthanasia and Mortality. Review
Also, I invite you to contact your Area Agency on Aging for information about support groups, social services and government programs for caregivers and those working to live with disabilities. There are also businesses that support older adults such as Home Instead Senior Care. And hospice organizations offer wonderful support for those active in the dying process.
Related:Movies about Older Adults Active in the Dying Process
Books on Aging