'A Song for Martin' Offers Touching Look at Alzheimer's Disease

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • After my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2005, I had the opportunity to travel to the Dallas area for professional reasons. I stopped for lunch right before noon at a restaurant that required customers to go through a buffet line. While waiting in line, I struck up a conversation with the lady next to me and the subject turned to Alzheimer’s disease. This lady was probably in her 60s and told me that she had married her husband about five years before. It was a second marriage for both. They had enjoyed their time together as newlyweds but he developed Alzheimer’s disease soon thereafter. The woman said her husband was now in a memory care unit and she was living alone.

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    At that point, I had never thought about someone getting married later in life who was soon confronted with a spouse who developed dementia so that lady’s story stayed with me. I was brought back to this conversation over the weekend after I watched the movie, “A Song for Martin.” Released in 2001 and currently available on Netflix, the movie starred real-life husband and wife, Sven Wollter and the late Viveka Seldahl. This film is from Sweden so you will have to read subtitles unless you are fluent in Swedish. However, I found this movie’s tale was a universal one that was well worth the effort because it offers a really true portrait of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and the toll this disease can take.

    The plot revolves around Martin, a renowned composer and orchestra conductor, and Barbara, the orchestra’s first violinist. Married to other people, they initially start to move toward a romantic entanglement when she helps him correct a problematic musical passage. The middle-aged couple eventually divorces their spouses, marries and is seen during an idyllic honeymoon in Morocco.

    After the honeymoon, you see the couple collaboratively working at two pianos across from each other in their home. They welcome family and friends in to their home and all seems to be going well for them. However, slowly the signs of Alzheimer’s began to emerge. Martin accidently calls Barbara by the name of his first wife. He has difficulty figuring out what’s going on in a piece of music. At one point, he forgets what he is doing while conducting the orchestra during a major performance. To watch these episodes related to Alzheimer’s start to emerge is heart breaking.  

    What I found interesting is watching Barbara -- who had decided to divorce her first husband instead of carrying an affair with Martin -- find herself in the position for caring for him fairly soon after marrying him. The film ably covers the challenges that Barbara faces as she tries to figure out how to walk a relationship tightrope that was fraught with peril due to Alzheimer’s. That tightrope spanned her marriage, professional concerns, and caregiving. You can tell that she hopes the nightmare that she finds herself in will stop, but it doesn’t. Instead, you see Martin go further and further into himself – and further and further away from her.

  • In his review, the late Roger Ebert wrote, “The movie is not about Alzheimer’s as  much as about loss…..Sometimes she gets angry at him. ‘All I ask,’ she tells him, ‘is a little of the charm you turn on for everyone else.’ But the man who was Martin is disappearing before her very eyes.” Martin will disappear before your eyes as well, but both he and Barbara leave you with some very powerful lessons about dementia, love, and the unexpected challenges that may emerge in the latter stages of life. As someone who has been touched by Alzheimer’s, I wholeheartedly recommend this movie as one that I believe will be thought-provoking for caregivers.

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    Ebert, R. (2002). A song for Martin. RogerEbert.com.

    A Song for Martin. (2001). Produced by Film I Vast, Helkon Media AG, Moonlight Filmprod.

Published On: November 10, 2014