Monday, February 25, 2013

Movies Depicting Alzheimer's Disease

Photo by Simon Shek. 
[Updated September 14, 2019 to add What They Had (2018.)]

Alzheimer's Disease radically interferes with a person's life. Scientists and health care professionals have done much to gather information and to offer support.

Books about Dementia

Hollywood has responded as well.  Filmmakers have already portrayed Alzheimer's Disease or other causes for dementia* in a number of film.

[*See this post about the medical experts' terminology change favoring Neurocognitive Disorder over dementia.]

Here are summaries and links to trailers for some of the films I've found with a list of the others at the end of this post.

Note that some of the films actually depict vascular dementia or dementia due to Parkinson's Disease, but some of the behaviors and symptoms are similar, so the film depictions may help family members process their feelings nonetheless.

Most of the films below are feature films and not documentaries.  I'm trying to emphasize the contribution that artists make to better responding to the challenges and opportunities presented by dementia.  Nevertheless, documentaries also require a view from the humanities more than from the sciences, so I have a few in the mix.

I found nearly all of these films on Netflix.

In post-production:  Supernova, starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci, directed by Harry MacQueen. Tucci's character, Tusker, has a diagnosis of early onset dementia.

ETA: Visit this page for links to a dozen plus documentaries about dementia.



What They Had (2018). Hilary Swank stars as a woman in midlife who questions her role as daughter, sister, wife & mother during a visit to her parents to address her mother's wandering due to dementia. The film explores complex family dynamics between parents and two adult children.  Full Review with trailer

Mr. Holmes (2015).  Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes as a man who lived beyond the pages of the stories.  Set in 1947, the film finds the detective retired and reviewing his last case from 30 years prior. Watch him use every trick for improving his failing memory and every device for uncovering clues.  Can this world-famous detective revise his legacy in time to transmit it to the rising generation? Full Review.
Still Alice (2015). Based on the novel of the same name, Still Alice shows a university professor and her family adjusting to her diagnosis and clinical symptoms of early onset Alzheimer's Disease.  The theme of identity through work threatening identity through relationships is strong.  Trailer.  Goodreads review of the book.




Dying of the Light (2014). Nicolas Cage stars as Evan Lake, a CIA agent who receives a diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD).  He has an old score to settle, but the angry outburst of FTD cost him his job. He goes rogue and vows to do his best to bring a foe to justice--despite increasing problems with his memory.

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me (2014). A documentary that depicts Campbell's life with Alzheimer's Disease (AD) from the time of his diagnosis through his farewell tour.  The docu shows his family and entourage showing him a lot of support while interspersing footage of his life and career in music, film and television.  Several musicians comment on his talent and explain how AD has affected their family, too. Full Review.

 Alive Inside (2014).  This documentary shows footage of persons with dementia responding well to music. However, this work is contexualized by interviews with Dan Cohen, founder of Music and Memory as well as interviews with caregivers, health care providers, dementia advocates and scientists.   Trailer.  Full Review.




Still Mine (2013). James Cromwell stars as a man in his 80s who is focused on building an appropriate home for his wife of 63 years (played by Genevieve Bujold).  She is experiencing memory problems that grow more severe.  He not only has to battle his aging body but the local building inspector, his opinionated neighbor and his well-meaning but patronizing adult children. Trailer.

Robot & Frank (2012)Retired jewel thief Frank (played by Frank Langella) lives by himself and is having a few memory issues. His son brings him an electronic personal assistant--a robot.  Soon Frank figures out a way to have the robot help him return to his old ways--but not without complications. Trailer.


Wrinkles (2012).  This animated film shows newcomer Emilio (voiced by Martin Sheen in the English version) learning how to adapt to life in a multi-level care center by his more acclimated roommate Miguel (voiced by George Coe).  Both find it challenging to preserve their autonomy in the situation, and both try to figure out how to respond to Emilio's advancing Alzheimer's Disease.  Trailer.

Fred Won't Move Out (2012). A short film starring Elliot Gould about two adult children trying to convince their aging parents to leave their home in order to move into assisted living.  Based on the director's experience with his own parents and filmed in his parents'  home. Trailer



I do not list Amour (2012) with these films.  Yes, the film depicts caregiving challenges. But I excluded it because the wife had a series of strokes that resulted in mobility problems and aphasia. The film doesn't depict or discuss memory problems.  (And, I loathed the film, so I admit that I am eager to exclude it.) I did, however, write a post that was solely a review of Amour, which you can find here.

Finding Jenua (2011). A young woman, trying to forget her past, meets an older woman who is trying to remember hers.  What starts as a relationship of opportunity ends up finding greater depth. A local young man also shows interest in Jenua.   A short film at only 70 minutes. Trailer.

A Separation (2011).  This film from Iran doesn't use Alzheimer's as the central conflict, but it plays a significant role. A couple is separating and considering a divorce. The husband's father has Alzheimer's and requires a caregiver. The adult son hires a woman caregiver, setting of a series of conflicts that grow more and more complex as the film progresses. Trailer.

Iron Lady (2011).  This biopic of Margaret Thatcher's political life is framed by her experience with vascular dementia (brought on by a series of strokes) in her final years.  Thatcher (played by Meryl Streep) reminisces about her past through conversations with her beloved late husband Denis (played by Jim Broadbent).  Trailer.



All Together (2011). A French film featuring an ensemble cast of seasoned actors (including American actresses Jane Fonda and Geraldine Chaplin).  When health and memory problems plague a few of the members, they decide to live together--then complexities emerge.  Trailer
Poetry (2010). Winner of Best Screenplay at the Cannes for its year, this film from S. Korea dwells very little on the character's new diagnosis of Alzheimer's. The conflict focuses more on the misdeeds of her grandson. However, she has compounding limitations when trying to marshal resources in response. I have a feeling that the diagnosis contributed to the film's ending, but it's only implied. Trailer.
Barney's Version (2010).   Only about the last 30 minutes of this 134 minute film depicts the main character living with dementia.  The bulk of the movie is a life review of  a Jewish Canadian television producer who has many flaws but somehow remains lovable. Trailer.



The Alzheimer's Project (2009). HBO aired a series of episodes about Alzheimer's Disease, which are available for streaming or for viewing on a 3 DVD set. The episodes include footage of several family members as they address a loved one's trajectory through AD. Trailer.

Lovely, Still (2008).  Artist Robert Malone (played by Martin Landau) meets a lovely woman his age named Mary (played by Ellen Burstyn)  For the first half of the film, you watch him stumble through asking her on some dates and meeting her family. As the film progresses, you learn that Alzheimer's Disease threatens the relationship and causes chaos for them both.  Trailer.

Diminished Capacity (2008). Matthew Broderick stars as Cooper, a young newspaper editor who recently suffered a concussion at the hands of a co-worker. He's still having trouble regaining his memory when his mother asks him to come home from Chicago to Southern Illinois to help manage his Alzheimer's disease-stricken uncle, played by Alan Alda.  Trailer.


The Savages (2007). Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as siblings Wendy and Jon who reconnect with their father when he starts having serious memory problems. Jon quickly concludes that they can't care for him themselves, but Wendy is ambivalent. They film focuses on the adult children's response with very little screen time for the father.  Trailer.

Away from Her (2006).  Starring Julie Christie, Gordon Pinset and Olympia Dukakis, Away from Her shows how isolating Alzheimer's Disease can be for the caregiving spouse.  In early stages of the disease, the person with the diagnosis usually struggles much with anxiety and depression. In late stage, it's the spouse who struggles more to relate to a person who no longer remembers them.  Trailer

Aurora Borealis (2005). Donald Sutherland plays a supporting role as a grandfather with Parkinson's Disease and a growing case of dementia.  His increased dependency presents challenges for his wife, his grandson but primarily for himself as he struggles with depression and suicidal ideation. The film's point of view is the nephew's. Trailer .

The Notebook (2004). The frame-tale of this film shows a mature woman in an assisted-living center receiving a visitor who tells her stories from decades prior. The bulk of the film consists of flashbacks about a young couple in their teens/twenties.  But the ending brings Alzheimer's to the foreground, but only for a few minutes.  Trailer.


The Forgetting (2004). This PBS documentary is based on David Shank's 1999 book of the same name.  The television program contains interviews of three families about the impact of Alzheimer's Disease on the person affected as well as the family relationships.  David Hyde Pierce leads a town hall type discussion in the last 30 minutes of this 90 minute program.  The Forgetting is available for viewing online.

Memory of a Killer (2001). This Dutch-language film focuses more on the thrill of the chase than on dementia. Two police officers are trying to capture a hit man who is suffering from dementia. The criminal's memory problems only affect a couple of scenes, and it's not a realistic depiction of Alzheimer's Disease.  But it's fun to see the 57 year old actor playing the lead.  Trailer.

Iris (2001).  Based on the the life of British novelist Iris Murdock as described in  her husband John Bayley's memoir, An Elegy for Iris, the film spans decades, so it's not solely about the way Alzheimer's Disease changed their relationship.  Wonderful performances by Kate Winslet as the younger Iris, Judi Dench as the mature Iris, and Jim Broadbent as the mature John Bayley.  Trailer.
A Song for Martin (2001).  A Swedish film with subtitles about a composer and violinist who marry later in life.  A few years into their marriage, he is diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. The film shows his progression from early stage through mid-stage to late stage dementia and the wive's struggle to keep her marriage vows as he moves further and further away from her. 
Firefly Dreams (2001). This Japanese coming-of-age film focuses on a 17-year-old girl whose parents' poor behavior rattles her, but she meets an older woman who is living with dementia. The teen is strengthened by forging a friendship with the mature woman and hearing her talk about her adventures in the 1940s.  Trailer
Age-Old Friends (1989). Hume Cronyn stars as John Cooper the anti-hero in this play-turned-film about a widower pushing back hard against the realities of aging. He lives in an assisted living center where he jokes around with his best friend Michael Aylott (Vincent Gardenia).  Over a series of a few weeks, marked by Sunday visits by his daughter, Cooper's tenacious grip on life starts to loosen.
Murder or Mercy (1987). Robert Young stars as Roswell Gilbert, a 75 year old man who shoots his wife Emily of 51 years because she is suffering from osteoporosis and Alzheimer's Disease. This film was released when Gilbert was still serving time. However, he ended up getting a pardon from the governor of Florida and then admitted that his act was wrong, even though during his trial, he insists there was no other way for him to help his ailing wife. 
Batteries Not Included (1987).  Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy play two of the five residents of a doomed apartment building.  Little alien robots come to their aid. Tandy plays a person with memory issues. However, her behavior has more to do about propelling the plot and creating tension / growth with other characters than it does about portraying dementia accurately.

Others films depicting dementia (often Alzheimer's Disease) that I have learned about but have not yet viewed:
  • The Father (2020)
  • The Artist's Wife (2019)
  • Elizabeth Is Missing (2019)
  • A Head Full of Honey (2018)
  • Emmerdale (2017)
  • Broken Memories (2017) 
  • Hamlet & Hutch (2014) starring Burt Reynolds
  • Angel's Perch (2013) feature film set in West Virginia 
  • The Genius of Marian (2013)  documentary 
  • Mai (2013) Hindi-language feature film 
  • "Pat XO" (2013) ESPN Nine for IX TV episode about a famous basketball coach
  • This Is Where We Live (2013)
  • Forget Me Not (2013) documentary 
  • Ashes (2012)
  • First Cousin Once Removed (2012) 
  • Terri (2011)
  • A Second Childhood (2010)
  • Happy Tears (2009)
  • Station of the Forgotten (2009)
  • U Me Aur Hum (2008) Hindi-language feature film 
  • Choke (2008)
  • Pandora's Box (2008) Turkish
  • Amencuer en el Sueno (2008) Spanish
  • Netherbeast Incorporated (2007) satire/fantasy
  • Pictures of Hollis Woods (2007)
  • Memories of Tomorrow (2006) Japanese 
  • Sundowning (2005)
  • Black (2005) Hindi-language feature film (AD minor w/some images of mistreatment)
  • Thanmathra (2005) Malayalam-language feature film (Tamil and India related culture)
  • I Did Not Kill Gandhi (2005) Hindi-language feature film  
  • A Moment to Remember (2004)
  • Quick Brown Fox (2004) documentary
  • A Time To Remember (2003)
  • Harvey Krumpet (2003) animated short
  • Son of the Bride (2001)
  • Safe House (2000)
  • Going Home (1999)
  • Gray Sunset (1985) 
Thanks to Swapna Kishore (caregiver and blogger focusing on caregiving in India) for the blog post with information about Indian movies about dementia / Alzheimer's Disease.

Updated 10/13/15: I found a YouTube channel with a variety of videos (clips, trailers, tv programs, documentaries) on dementia.  I haven't viewed these yet, but I'm putting the link here to save it.

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