Mar 16

Assisted Death the Theme of Amy Bloom’s “In Love”

Heller McAlpin, NPR, asks potential readers of the new book by writer/psychotherapist Amy Bloom, In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss, “Would you agree to help your beloved end his life when he receives a hopeless diagnosis?” The issue of assisted death is what Bloom faced in her own marriage.

The diagnosis in question is early-onset Alzheimer’s, which struck Brian Ameche in his mid-60’s.

Not everyone will agree with Brian’s decision, or with Bloom’s agreement to support his wishes. Bloom understands that euthanasia is a controversial subject, and she addresses it with the gravitas it deserves. At various points, she worries ‘that a better wife, certainly a different wife, would have said no, would have insisted on keeping her husband in this world until his body gave out.’ In Brian’s sharper moments, she worries that they’re acting too soon. She also, rightly, rails at a system that allows animals to be put out of their misery, but not human beings.

The bumpy road to assisted death, or in this case legally “accompanied suicide” (involving drinking sodium pentobarbital) brings the couple to an organization in Switzerland called Dignatas. But you can’t just access Dignatas because you want to. One of the stumbling blocks was proving Brian’s level of “discernment and determination”:

The couple know that if they wait too long, he will no longer be capable of passing this test. They hit an upsetting delay when they learn that Brian’s neurologist had written on the MRI report that the reason for the test was a ‘major depressive episode.’ Depression is a deal-breaker for Dignitas, which does not want to be in the business of helping clinically depressed people commit suicide. Brian and Bloom have to prove that the neurologist’s note is simply not true.

Simon Van Booy, Washington Post, believes In Love demonstrates that “perhaps the two most challenging issues for Bloom as a wife” are finding alternatives to Dignatas if rejected and deciding how to tell loved ones.

While the latter, i.e., telling others, produces “some unusual reactions,” the former involves pondering various other methods of dying:

The author recounts how she considered drowning, procuring fentanyl from a drug dealer, DIY suffocation, and VSED (voluntary suspension of eating and drinking), which in the case of her husband (a former Yale football player) could take as long as a month…

In Love is currently on many critics’ must-read lists. The following review excerpt from Publishers Weekly echoes the sentiments of many, including my own: “With passion and sharp wit, [Amy Bloom] jumps back and forth between the beginning of their relationship, the Herculean effort it took to secure an agreement with Dignitas, and the painful anticipation of the final trip to Switzerland. Most poignant are the intimate moments they share as they make the most of their last days together. As she writes, ‘I imagine that Brian feels as alone as I do but I can tell he isn’t as afraid.’ The result is a stunning portrayal of how love can reveal itself in life’s most difficult moments.”

Jan 16

“Still Alice”: Julianne Moore with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s

Alice is too young to assume that a momentary lapse might be an early sign of dementia. And then, over the length of a single devastating close-up, Alice learns that the rest of her life will be devoted to what she later refers to as ‘the art of losing.” David Ehrlich, Time Out, about Still Alice

Last Sunday Julianne Moore won a Golden Globe for her lead performance in Still Alice, the new film based on neuroscientist Lisa Genova‘s 2009 novel about a 50-year-old married professor who finds out she has early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

Co-written and co-directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, Still Alice opens nationwide today.

The trailer below opens with Alice having confusing memory lapses; she later starts to come to terms with what’s actually happening to her and her family, which includes her husband (Alec Baldwin) and three adult kids (Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish).

ALICE

Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com: “’Still Alice’ is about how she reacts to her own deterioration–how she constantly reassesses it and figures out how to cope. She doesn’t always do it with quiet dignity, which is refreshing; sometimes she even uses the disease to manipulate those around her or get out of a social occasion she’d rather avoid.”

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: “Moore is especially good at the wordless elements of this transformation, allowing us to see through the changing contours of her face what it is like when your mind empties out. When Alice says at one point ‘I feel like I can’t find myself,’ it is all the more upsetting because we’ve already watched it happen.”

THE DIAGNOSIS AND PROGRESSION OF THE DISEASE

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “Determined to continue her research and lifestyle uninterrupted, with the full support of her husband (Alec Baldwin, in one of his more sensitive and totally natural performances) and family, Alice eschews the terror of what lies ahead and embraces logic and common sense.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “It’s not until Alice learns that the disease is hereditary that the severity of her situation sets in: As if it weren’t bad enough that she will eventually cease to recognize her own children, Alice may also be responsible for passing the condition along to them.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “With what seems like shocking rapidity — the film’s chronology is appropriately fuzzy — Alice slides from a witty, intelligent, capable adult into a fragile and confused shadow of her former self.”

ALICE’S FAMILY

David Ehrlich, Time Out: “Perhaps owing to the fact that Glatzer and Westmoreland know a thing or two about living with a debilitating disease (the former has ALS), the movie always evinces an acute understanding of how pity can be the most painful thing to feel for someone you love.”

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times:”…(I)f it wasn’t for costar Kristen Stewart, who plays Alice’s daughter Lydia, ‘Still Alice’ wouldn’t be nearly as emotionally effective as it is. Moore and Stewart have been off-screen friends for more than a decade, and that bond only enhances the work they do here.”

OVERALL REVIEWS

Dana Stevens, Slate: “Glatzer and Westmoreland don’t need to stack the emotional deck on Alice’s behalf…They just leave the camera on Moore’s beautiful but increasingly faraway face, and our tears come on their own.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “The story is sad and sincerely told, but it is too removed from life to carry the full measure of pain that Alice deserves.”

Christy Lemirerogerebert.com: “Co-directors and writers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland don’t shy away from the steady and terrifying way the disease can take hold of a person and strip away her ability to communicate and connect with the outside world. But they also don’t tell this story with much nuance or artistry in adapting Lisa Genova’s novel.”