The Notebook. Ugh, The Notebook.
Every once in a while, I will tell someone that I do research on dementia and work with individuals and families impacted by Alzheimer’s, and they say something like, “OMG! I LOVE The Notebook.”
Um. What? I was horrified to learn that the first thing some people think of when they hear the term Alzheimer’s is some sappy Nicholas Sparks love story book-turned-movie. And this movie is 10 years old now. Will it never die?
First, the Cliff Notes…Allie and Noah hook up but Allie ends up engaged to someone else. They lose touch. Noah is a persistent one, so he fixes up a house to the specifications she mentioned years earlier and writes her letters for 365 straight days (which Allie’s mom doesn’t give her–but Noah keeps writing despite the lack of response). Of course, Allie eventually realizes that Noah is the guy for her and they get married.
The story is told in flashbacks. In present day, Allie and Noah are sitting on a bench with Noah reading their love story to Allie. As the movie goes on, you realize that Allie has Alzheimer’s and Noah’s reading of their romantic tale (which was written by Allie) is the only thing that helps her to recognize him and “bring her back.”
Not all of the reasons I dislike this movie are related to its representation of Alzheimer’s. I will start with the reasons that are unrelated to its portrayal of dementia.
The movie glorifies what I would consider to be stalking behavior. I’m gonna run this by you…let’s say you’re a young woman who has what is virtually a one-night stand with a guy. You lose touch with him for several years. Then he finally connects with you (after you are engaged to someone else), and you realize that while you’ve been apart he has been fixing up a house based on some off-hand comments you made while you were making out. Now, in real life, that’s just messed up. According to The Notebook, it’s romantic.
Along the same lines, Noah writes Allie a letter each day for an entire year. He never gets a response. Yet he dutifully keeps writing. Keeping in mind that this takes place in the 1940’s, I decided to translate this into modern life and ask my female college students to comment on it. They told me that if you guy starts texting you and gets no response, he’d better stop at three or four texts or you start telling all your friends he’s a creeper.
Now that I have that out of my system, let’s talk about the Alzheimer’s stuff.
When Allie is in the early stages of dementia, she gives Noah the written tale of their love and tells him if he reads it to her she will always “come back to him.” I appreciate Noah’s efforts, and it does temporarily spark her memory when he reads it. But guess what? It doesn’t work that way in real life. Sure, it’s sometimes valuable to talk about the past with people who have dementia–if that’s what they seem interested in and able to talk about–but we shouldn’t do this with the intent that it will “awaken” them. That sets up people with Alzheimer’s to disappoint us. And memory in dementia just doesn’t work like that.
In addition, Allie is supposed to be in end-stage Alzheimer’s, and she (with Noah) does pass away at the end of the movie. However, memory loss appears to be the only real symptom she has. That perpetuates a myth that runs rampant in the general public–that Alzheimer’s is about memory loss. Of course, memory loss is a symptom of Alzheimer’s, but Alzheimer’s is so much more than memory loss. Allie is certainly not a realistic portrayal of someone about to die from this disease. Someone at the end-stage of Alzheimer’s would be sleeping much of the time, perhaps unable to sit up, and have very limited speech.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I’m not fun. That this is a movie. That we really shouldn’t be focused on accuracy.
But here’s the deal…I don’t expect that most people are going to be searching for research articles on Alzheimer’s or cruising reputable websites for info. However, a lot of people watch movies.
And The Notebook aligns closely with how I find the general public thinks of this disease. They think it’s about memory loss. And they think if we reminisce to jog their memory, everything will come flooding back. That type of thinking leads to disappointment. Let’s focus on connecting with someone–whether or not they remember. We make it harder than it has to be when we depend on memory to make a connection with someone whose dementia has progressed.
Yeah, it’s a movie. I get that. And if you make a sci-fi or fantasy movie, I give you complete license to be as out there as you want to be. When we talk about Alzheimer’s, an effort to not promote myths about the disease would be helpful.