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January 01, 2013

Movie Review: Amour

Mary Joy Quinn

This controversial film has been termed depressing and sad by many critics. Quite possibly, some of those comments are a result of being frightened by the depiction of old-old age, disability, and death on screen. It is frightening. It looms as a possible future for everyone. Some of us have already had the experience of caring for an older loved one whose health failed and who then died. For those of us who are over 55 and career free, it is part of our interior landscape on a daily basis.

For a gerontologist, the film is inspiring and lives up to its title of Amour. We see the husband loving his wife tenderly in her disability and abiding by her wishes spoken and when unspoken, known by him. He never stops although he may falter here and there. He is steadfast. He picks up her share of the household labor; he deals with in home help most appropriately and carefully. He feeds her. He fires a caregiver he believes is abusive. This is how a man loves a woman. In a way, he is imprisoned by the love he has for his wife. He has no choice but to care for her. He does not, however, feel the care giving as a burden but rather as what one does for a long term partner.

Their daughter by contrast, is not helpful. She presents her father with options that are unthinkable for him (“Place her in a nursing home.”). She also attempts to get her impaired mother, who can barely speak, to purchase a home for her and her husband. At the same time, she is deeply distressed and mourns her mother’s increasing disability. But she does not pitch in or help her parents. She travels for her work but she does not do what she could have done. She is not a comfort to either parent. This is not uncommon with adult children. Often, it is impossible for them to think of their parents as struggling humans and they feel helpless in the face of parental need. And, truth be told, maybe her parents did not want her that involved in their lives—ever.

The film is clean and taut. The role of the husband as caregiver is truthful. The ending is unexpected although the opening scene foretells it in a fashion. The ending is consistent and loving. There is no manipulating of the viewer. The audience is not pandered to and there is no false cheerfulness. In fact, there is nothing false at all. It is realistic both for the role of the husband caregiver and the anguish of the daughter both for her parents and herself.

The film took courage to create, produce, and distribute. The actors are splendid to the point that you cannot believe they are acting—it has the feel of a documentary. The film sheds light on a hidden part of life and for that reason, is refreshing and relieving.

What shall we take away from this disturbing film?

Of course, that will be up to each individual. Certainly, planning for the possibility of disability and the inevitability of death itself is one course of action. We can face our own mortality in a matter of fact manner. Preparing a team of those who would care for you and would “see you out” would provide comfort and peace of mind for both you and loved ones in your life. Planning helps ensure that you will have as much control as possible and that your wishes will be honored even if you become disabled. Guidelines do exist. What else—well, there is one’s own community plus state and federal agencies and policies to consider becoming involved with for those who thrive in the advocate role. We have Amour to thank for illuminating theses possibilities. ■

Mary Joy Quinn

About the Author: Mary Joy Quinn is the Commission’s liaison from the National College of Probate Judges and Director (ret.), Probate Court at San Francisco Superior Court in San Francisco, CA.