Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Artist’s Wife

The Artist’s Wife
Directed by Tom Dolby
Released September 25, 2020 (Theaters and VOD)

The knowledge that memory will decay rarely makes its inevitability any easier. When a person is told that they are starting to forget things or act in a manner that indicates a decline, the usual response is to insist that abilities still exist and cognitive function can be maintained. Those who watch their loved ones go through the process of losing memory experience a different kind of pain, grounded in the reality of what they know to be true as they witness someone they care about starting to see the world and often even them in a less familiar way.

Richard (Bruce Dern) is a renowned artist whose considerable talent is matched by his often crude and uncompromising exterior. His wife Claire (Lena Olin) has supported him for years, and she stands by him when he is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which slowly begins showing itself in his behavior. Claire has the added burden of ensuring that the paintings he has not yet done are finished by his impending show as she struggles to take care of him when he refuses to confront what is happening. She sees reaching out to his estranged daughter Angela (Juliet Rylance) as one opportunity to help him, but clear signs of deterioration are not enough to overcome past damage done to their relationship.

This film immediately conjures up similar projects like “The Wife,” about a spouse who lives in the shadow of her famous husband, and “Away from Her,” about the marriage between a husband and his wife, who moves into a nursing home after her Alzheimer’s disease progresses. This film features a woman who is well aware of the stubborn, egotistical man she has married, and understands that those personality traits will only make this process more difficult. She also has her own history as an artist that she gave up in part to appease a partner who wasn’t capable of sharing the limelight, which adds another dimension to the transforming dynamic that requires unpacking.

Olin, an Oscar-nominated actress who has been working steadily for the past few decades, finds a fabulous leading role here that makes excellent use of her screen presence. She conveys the toll of living in someone else’s shadow and the stirring possibility of freedom that a new existence brings with it, coupled with the guilt of not wanting to abandon someone who does need help. Her layered performance opposite Dern’s gruff portrayal is effective, as is the standout supporting turn from Rylance. This film, like others that deal with this subject, is tough to watch at times but serves as a worthwhile and intimate snapshot of an identity exploration for one person brought on by the gradual disappearance of another.


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