Alzheimer’s Isn’t Funny

Last week there were reports that Will Ferrell was pursuing a new movie in which he would portray Ronald Reagan.  The project was pitched as a comedy set during Reagan’s second term, in which he is depicted as already in the grip of Alzheimer’s disease and an intern is charged with convincing Reagan that he is an actor portraying the President.  After an outcry about the insensitivity of the concept from Reagan’s children and others, one of Ferrell’s representatives said the actor wasn’t going to do the movie.

brain-tree-dementia-624x295I get why the Reagan children reacted as they did, and I think Ferrell was wise to back away from the project.  The reality is that Alzheimer’s disease really isn’t very funny.  Sure, many people who have had to deal with a family member with the disease probably have shaken their heads and had a rueful laugh about a particular episode that demonstrates how the ill person has changed — whether by repeating themselves, or by not knowing a friend or family member, or by showing radical changes to their personality as the disease ravages their brain — but it’s defensive humor, designed to help you cope with the realization that a person you know and love is falling into a black pit from which they will never emerge, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

I’ve read several memoirs written by children who’ve cared for parents with Alzheimer’s or dementia.  When the books share a “humorous” anecdote, as they sometimes do, it’s uncomfortable reading because the victim of the disease is inevitably the butt of the humor — because they’ve forgotten where they are, or have taken a shower with their pants on, or have used a word that they would never had said before in polite company.  It’s not really funny at all.  It’s tragic, and it’s not fair to the person whose intellect and personality and consciousness is being irreversibly stripped away, bit by bit, until only an unfamiliar shell remains.  They can’t help themselves.

I suppose a hard-bitten, cynical Hollywood agent might think a script about an intern deceiving a character in the grip of Alzheimer’s was a laugh riot, but only if that agent didn’t know anyone who had experienced the disease.  These days, there aren’t many people who fall into that category, and those who have been touched aren’t going to go watch a “comedy” that reminds them of the devastation the disease inflicted.  And if such a movie ever gets made, how many members of the audience are going to erupt in belly laughs about the lead character’s painful confusion?

My guess is that most people who watched such a movie would leave with the same fervent vow found among people who have dealt with Alzheimer’s in their families.  It goes like this: “Please don’t let me ever, ever get Alzheimer’s.”

Rogue One

I learned today that there’s a new movie coming out later this year that will tell the story of some other characters in the Star Wars universe.  It’s called Rogue One, and the trailer above makes it look pretty cool.

I have no problem with introducing new characters, and new worlds, and new concepts into the Star Wars franchise.  The Star Wars universe is vast, and its about time that we got to see some different parts of it.  Years ago, after the first Star Wars came out, Marvel Comics bought the rights to tell interstitial stories about what happened in the time between the movies, and there have been countless Star Wars novels.  I haven’t read any of them, but I’ve heard that at least some of them are pretty good.

I’m all in favor of fleshing out the galaxy far, far away — especially if produces more good sci-fi films.

Patty Duke

I was saddened to read of the death of Patty Duke this week.  From the tributes about her, it sounds like she faced difficult challenges in her life, and in her death, but it was encouraging to read that her son thought her death brought her peace.

While most of the obituaries emphasize her Oscar win for The Miracle Worker, I’ll always remember her for The Patty Duke Show, which had one of the greatest ’60s TV show intros of all time.  We watched the show as children and wondered: could there really be identical cousins?  It was one of the most implausible TV concepts ever — right up there with My Mother The Car — but Patty Duke somehow made it work, playing both genteel Cathy and rockin’ Patty.  She was a talent.

Political Withdrawal

pixelsWith the Ohio primary behind us, I’ve withdrawn for now on the political front.  Watching the political talk shows, reading the political websites, and checking the polls just got to be a bit too much.  Although this 2016 presidential election has been weirdly fascinating, and probably will be studied for years into the future, I didn’t want to let it become all-consuming.  After all, the election itself isn’t for nearly eight months yet.

Since last Tuesday, I’ve kept the news channels off and skipped the Sunday talk shows.  I’ve tried to avoid political discussions at the office.  I’ve taken Kasey for some long walks and watched the CGI-heavy video-gamer movie Pixels, which I thought was, surprisingly, pretty funny and enjoyable.  I’m focused on finishing a book, and I’ve got another book in line to read after that one.  I’ve discovered that not reading about the latest shenanigans of Donald Trump and the other candidates has been good for my outlook — and probably good for my blood pressure, too.

At some point, being a political junkie could interfere with your real life.  I’d rather keep my focus on the real life, which is a lot more important, anyway.  So, they’re voting in Arizona and Utah today?  Good for them . . . but I’d rather think about spring and the flowers we’re going to be planting in the back yard.

Picking The Real Best Picture

Tomorrow night is the Oscars.  I won’t be watching, but I know one thing:  they’ll screw up the selection of best picture because . . .  well, because they always screw it up!  Year after year, movies that appeal to the general population — movies that move us, inspire us, challenge us, and make us feel good as we’re walking out of the theater — get passed over for some hoity-toity, highbrow “serious” movie.  It’s ridiculous.

witness-harrison-ford-kelly-mcgillisThe movie that encapsulates this phenomenon, for me, was Out of Africa.  It was a slow, dreary, unwatchable piece of crap.  It was a “chick flick” of sorts, but one so ponderous that even women who want to revel in the arched eyebrow/heavy sigh/”the intense drama of real human relationships” school of cinema would find it an absolute snoozefest.  Yet somehow this leaden dud won the Best Picture Oscar, beating out the likes of Witness — a great and touching movie about an injured cop who finds sanctuary among the Amish in Pennsylvania.  As yourself now:  if you turned on the TV and had this choice, which movie would you rather watch:  Out of Africa, or Witness?  Does anyone seriously doubt that everybody except members of the Meryl Streep Fan Club would choose Witness?  For that matter, would any network even broadcast Out of Africa?  It’s probably the least requested Netflix movie in history.

The Washington Post has done a commendable public service by going back through the last 40 years of Best Picture Oscar blunders and telling us the real best picture of the year.  I disagree with some of their choices — I still say Star Wars and E.T. were obvious choices for Best Picture Oscars — but it’s a useful exercise nevertheless.  With rare exception, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences always gets it wrong.  The people who don’t win the Best Picture Oscar tomorrow night probably should be happy.

“Top Men”

Whenever I hear a speech by Donald Trump these days, I hear the same refrain.  Every problem will be solved by getting the best business people to work on it — to build a wall, to negotiate trade deals, etc., etc., etc.  We heard this again in The Donald’s victory speech in New Hampshire last night.  Of course, those stud managers and negotiators who are going to save the country and let us “win again” never get named.

It reminds me of one of the last scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, after Indy has recovered the Lost Ark of the Covenant, turned it over to the U.S. government, and learned to his dismay that he’s not going to be able to study it.  Who is going to study this object of unimaginable power?  The tubby, pipe-smoking government bureaucrat simply responds, with smug assurance:  “Top men.”  Of course, the Ark ends up boxed into a crate and carted off to some anonymous shelf in a seemingly endless government warehouse.

The next time the Trumpster makes this point, I wish he would just use the phrase “top men.”