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Frames of dementia, grieving otherwise in The Father, Relic and Supernova: representing dementia in recent film

Wearing, Sadie (2023) Frames of dementia, grieving otherwise in The Father, Relic and Supernova: representing dementia in recent film. In: Ward, Richard and Sandberg, Linn J., (eds.) Critical Dementia Studies: An Introduction. Dementia in Critical Dialogue. Routledge, Abingdon, UK, 100 - 115. ISBN 9781032118802

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Identification Number: 10.4324/9781003221982-12


In recent years, the number of ‘critically acclaimed’ films in Europe, the UK and the US about dementia has continued to flourish. This chapter analyses three films, all released in 2020: The Father (Dir. Florian Zeller), The Relic (Dir. Natalie Erika James) and Supernova (Dir. Harry MacQueen). These films differ in significant ways; they cover a range of genres, from the family melodrama to romance and horror. Such genre differences produce a wide range of ‘feeling tones’, with the potential to elicit a range of affective responses in the viewer, which may, in turn, have a transformative impact on how the condition is understood culturally, socially and politically. But how far do these recent films challenge the problems that have already been identified as key questions for thinking through representations of this condition? (Or, more accurately, range of conditions.) Namely, the dangers of entrenching stigma, fear and denial and the production of ‘epistemic injustice’ that ultimately dehumanises and renders abject the character (and, by implication, anyone else) who is identified with dementia? These preoccupations reflect the critical challenges that the field of dementia studies explores. The films in question raise a range of potentially productive issues specifically for critical accounts of the portrayals of dementia on film. For example, has the perspectival shift, widely reported in press reactions to The Father, answered the critique of cinema that it has too often focused on the traumas of the caregiver and failed to attempt to represent the embodied experiences of dementia? If so, to what extent does this shift reflect a more progressive cultural narrative? Supernova explores a same-sex couple’s experiences of dementia. Does this narrative rearticulate the gendered dimensions of dementia and care that have interested critics or does the figuration of loss and grief and the invocation of suicide override these potential considerations? And, finally, what shape does the cultural imaginary of dementia take in The Relic when inflected through the horror genre? What might this offer to critical accounts concerned with questions of personhood and the ethics of representation? This chapter takes the opportunity afforded by this cluster of films all released in the same year to produce a ‘snapshot’ of both the range of representations currently circulating and contemporary critical approaches to the representation of dementia on film.

Item Type: Book Section
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 selection and editorial matter, the editors ; individual chapters, the contributors
Divisions: Gender Studies
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Date Deposited: 15 Mar 2024 18:30
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 06:02

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