As more than 1 billion viewers gear up to watch the annual Academy Awards this Sunday, it struck me that we have two Oscar Best Picture contenders and one movie overlooked by the Academy but chock-full of Oscar gold players and a first-time director which represent some of the most poignant caregiving moments brought to film in 2012. What makes these three movies so powerful in their caregiving message is that each represents a different way we can step into the caregiving spotlight: as a caregiver of a spouse (Amour), as a caregiver of an adult child with mental illness (Silver Linings Playbook) and as friends caring for friends in our golden years (Quartet).
Caregiving for a Spouse - Amour
If you are or have recently been a caregiver for a spouse, this Oscar-nominated Best Picture may be too raw and real for you to bear. However, send your adult children, your friends and others to see it before it leaves theaters or have them put it on their Netflix list so they can perhaps understand the daily emotional struggle that is (or was) your caregiving existence. For Amour captures perhaps the most realistic rainbow of caregiver emotions ever committed to film.
A brutally honest and beautifully done movie by Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke, Amour stars two nearly forgotten 80-years-young icons of French cinema, Jean-Louis Trintignant (When a Man Loves a Woman, 1966) who plays Georges, and Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima Mon Amour, 1959) who plays his wife, Anne. It captures the crisis and decline of both the afflicted and their loved one when it comes to caregiving. Families typically encounter caregiving after a traumatic event, in this film it is Anne's stroke that unsettles the satisfying routine existence of this octogenarian couple living in Paris. Haneke makes us voyeurs in this intimate story. We watch over subsequent months and years while Anne's health declines with the film never flinching from difficult scenes of real caregiving such as incontinence, bed sores, feeding, bathing, dressing. All the while, Georges struggles in desperation to lovingly keep Anne comfortably at home and honor her wish to never return to the hospital.
I found the most poignant part of the movie when the son-in-law asks Georges, "How are you managing all this -- we need to do something." Georges responds with, "You have a better idea?" In other words, family who are not in the day-to-day caregiving struggle have NO idea of what caregiving is really all about. For Georges, there is no escape and yet, you know he does not want to escape as much as change their lives back to what it once was. Georges has become reconciled to the fact that Anne is not who she once was.This sad reality makes the ending to the movie less about shock-value than about provoking thought. Haneke passes no judgment on his characters and neither do we. As we watch the twilight of Georges and Anne's love story, we know that twilight will come for us one day and it provides the audience with a touch of compassion.
Amour is simply about life and the message that we must quietly accept death - we must face it because it faces us. In the end, if we have love, that may be all that matters. C'est la vie - c'est l'amour.
Caregiving for an Adult Child with Mental Illness - Silver Linings Playbook
What makes this delightful movie so powerful is that director, David O. Russell, is himself a father of an adult son with mental health issues - there is truth in his film and those are the most impactful movies on audiences.
Silver Linings Playbook is brilliantly cast, which is why all four lead characters are up for acting nominations at the Academy Awards -- a very rare occurrence. Bradley Cooper delivers a sweet, smart performance as the son recently returned home after a stay in a mental institution. The uplifting ending only makes sense because we watch Cooper meltdown in the middle of the film and understand his need for love and compassion while he comes to grips with his bipolar disorder. He ultimately finds it in the quirky, off-balance character played by up-and-coming star Jennifer Lawrence. Her ability to bulldoze her way into Cooper's life and not only understand him but love him for it is the heart of the story.
Robert DeNiro is at his best giving us a glimpse into a family dynamic which makes us understand why Cooper's character may be a little off. DeNiro's OCD tendencies and obsession with Philadelphia Eagles football and his superstitions about his son's role in their ability to win is only outranked by his love for his son and his wish to see him happy and healthy. Jacki Weaver, another delightful actress from the land down under, rounds out the foursome and is the chief co-conspirator in recognizing that her son's survival may reside in the neighborhood girl who battles her own demons.
Silver Linings Playbook gives us all a lesson in the difficult road those with mental illness and their loved ones must travel. The societal stigma and need to find normal in the chaos of the mind is misunderstood by most who have not experienced a family member or friend who suffers from mental health issues. This movie shows us that in every caregiving situation, we can find a silver lining.
Caregiving for Friends - Quartet
Although overlooked by the Academy with no Oscar nominations, Quartet brings us a bevy of Oscar winners past including freshman director, 75-year-old Dustin Hoffman, who won his acting Oscars for Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man.
As I watched this delightful film, all I could think of was that when my time comes, I would like to live in a retirement home or assisted living facility such as the luxurious Beecham House in the film. Four Oscar winners and nominees (Maggie Smith winner for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and California Suite), Tom Courtenay (nominated for Dr. Zhivago and The Dresser), Billy Connolly (nominated for Mrs. Brown) and Pauline Collins (winner for Shirley Valentine) make up our quartet -- all retired but not forgotten opera stars who famously performed Verdi's Rigoletto quartet in their prime.
Maggie Smith, who brings the wit to the words here as she does on TV's Downton Abbey, is a wonder and her chemistry with on-screen old flame Tom Courtenay is palpable. Connolly plays a randy, fun-loving character whose love for women of all ages has not abated with his advancing years and Collins is in fine form as the sweet member of the quartet who suffers from dementia.
One has to believe that Hoffman, who marks his debut as a director, has betrayed himself as a true romantic. The movie is lusciously filmed and remarkably devoid of any sad notes on aging. In fact, the refrain from this tale is that age can bring clarity to things overlooked throughout our hurried lives and perhaps also bring happiness (as found in two of our lead characters). The caregiving message is that in the end, it may not be family but perhaps dear, old friends who care for us and that is a sweet song indeed.
Read the full reviews of these films and more at Caregiving Goes to the Movies