Although it’s been almost seven years since my father died from Alzheimer’s, I’m only now researching on a deeper level how dementia is portrayed in the arts.
Years ago, I read the bestselling novel depicting dementia—Still Alice. I also highly recommend the film, The Savages, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as adult siblings dealing with a very ill parent. It’s got both humor and pathos. Recently, I watched and reviewed, The Father, for which Anthony Hopkins won an Academy Award.
Now I’ve seen Falling. Produced, written, directed by, and starring Viggo Mortensen—one of my favorite actors (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, The Road)—this film was hard to watch, but for the wrong reasons.
Mortensen plays John, the adult son of a conservative, mean-as-snake father who lives on a rural farm in upstate New York and is suffering from the early stages of dementia. In an attempt to relocate his father, John brings him out to California where he lives with his husband and adopted daughter. Things do not go well.
The key problem is that good stories need not only conflict—of which there is a lot in this film—but also conflict that leads to character change—of which there is none.
The father is relentlessly awful and always has been, as we discover in flashbacks demonstrating his cruelty to wife and child from when John was a boy. And the adult John never gives up trying to help this man, despite being abused by him all his life. It doesn’t make sense. The film grinds on, hitting a single, sour note. It left this viewer largely unsatisfied.
I have other books and films that focus on an element of dementia on my read and see list—anyone who knows me can guess why. I’m hoping I don’t run into a story like this one again.