"Is Anybody There?" Highlights Friendship Between Young and Old, but Misses on Dementia Aspect
My friend, Mara, and I recently met to see Michael Caine’s new movie, “Is Anybody There?” Caine plays Clarence, a former magician who grumpily moves into a retirement home of sorts—it’s house run by a couple that apparently need the money. He ends up befriending the owners’ young son Edward, who is obsessed with death. The story follows the evolution of the pair’s friendship; toward the end of the movie, the friends have to face Clarence’s mental and eventual physical decline due to dementia.
“I loved playing him. He’s lonely, like many old people, but he never gives in. He regains his life with the boy. He has a raison d’être, as the French say,” Caine explained in an interview published in the May and June 2009 issue of AARP. In another interview with moviesonline.com, Caine noted that he had a personal understanding of Clarence’s battle with dementia. “… I was technically perfect, because my best friend just died of it (Alzheimer’s disease),” Caine said. “And so I knew, I’d just spent five years with it, Doug Hayward, my tailor, who was also my best friend, and so I knew exactly about Alzheimer’s and what happens and the confusion and stuff.”
“Is Anybody There?” does a great job depicting Edward’s wonderment (and puzzlement) about what happens when someone dies. You also see Clarence battle the idea that he needs to live in a retirement home. However, I was a little lost as to why he had to move into the retirement community in the first place. We don’t meet any of the people in his life or understand the circumstances that have led him to where he finds himself. Later in the movie, Edward’s father commented that Clarence was placed in the home due to senility, but at that point, the film had shown very few scenes in which Clarence’s behavior indicates that he is having memory problems.
I also think more description was needed of Clarence’s decline into dementia and that it needs to be portrayed sooner. A brief forgetting about refilling a prescription gives you a minor clue as does an early emotional breakdown and Clarence’s erratic driving. Then there’s an issue with a magic trick that Clarence is performing for Edward’s birthday party. But it isn’t until late in the film when Edward decides to take Clarence on a field trip to visit his wife’s grave that you see the heartbreaking face of dementia. It’s at this point Clarence exhibits classic symptoms often seen in those with Alzheimer’s. I wish that the director had shown more of the effect that Clarence’s decline into dementia had on his friendship with Edward.
Yet I do believe the movie did achieve one of Caine’s goals. When asked what he wanted audiences to experience from watching the movie, Caine replied, “I would like them to take away a moving experience about life that they didn’t quite have before about the relationships between children and adults and youngsters and the aging. It goes both ways, you see how an older person can help someone young and bring them around, and you see how a younger person should treat an older person. So I think that understanding between the two ages is very important in this picture.”