The Epistle of Q — Chapter Seventeen (Supplemental)

Why should you see either of these films I saw yesterday? It’s not simply because of their direction, acting and camera-work…

Q #1
The Innocents — why?
This film is both revealing and disturbing. In the midst of chaos it demonstrates that real people can make a difference. The young Red Cross medical assistant who helps a group of nuns almost imprisoned in their own convent is an interesting character study. She risks even her life, and at one point almost experiences the same fate as the nuns had. But she is not overly religious although she seems to grow in her own sense of faith. She wants better health care for the nuns who are pregnant but is not pushy with those who are reluctant to accept her help. She thinks on her feet and in the end helps them all get to a better place. All interesting attributes of would-be heroes in many films.

But in this film there is an underlying theme: the belief in the power of hope is better than acceptance of fate. The journey the heroine takes alongside both her doctor mentor/lover and the two sisters who lead the convent is at times parallel and at other times completely at odds. In a way this is what makes the story so compelling — just when you think she should do one thing to get to better, she does something quite different and slowly that decision leads to better although not quite in the way you might wish or think. Her confrontations with the Mother Superior are frequent yet by the end both have come to realize the perspective of the other, and accept their own place in the unfolding drama.

There are a couple of characters that help frame this need for hope. The French commander of the Red Cross group is gruff and to-the-point. But in that role reminds us of the importance of keeping the focus of one’s job ever in mind. He gets the tasks done, not always gently but certainly to the benefit of many returning Polish soldiers. The Jewish doctor is also a very focused individual, but in his own way demonstrates a commitment to hope and a better tomorrow without being obtuse or pejorative towards the young heroine. In the end he too does help get the tasks done, even at the convent.

The story is based on true events. Perhaps that is what makes it so poignant. It certainly shows another aftermath of war that we too often are either shielded from or don’t wish to acknowledge. And it shows us in a way that makes us realize there were many unsung heroes, especially in Europe, in the months after WW II ended. And suggests there may still be heroes among us that we ought to appreciate and acknowledge.

Q #2

Alive Within — Why?
This documentary is almost biting in its ability to show us how prejudice against the elderly with dementia is a waste of humanity. My first reaction has been to say that this needs to be seen by those over 65; but, upon reflection, I would say the people who should see it are those under the age of 65. It should also be shown in medical schools with the hope that it might inspire more to go into geriatric studies — did you know that the number of specialists in this field is actually decreasing even though we are coming to an era where there will be a significant increase in the population over 80?

The documentary shows the frustration of trying to get systems and institutions to change even in the face of new evidence of how to do things better? Simultaneously it demonstrates the power of new media — both social and technological — as momentum is built when someone posts part of a story on-line that shows an almost comatose man coming to life when headphones are placed on his ears and he gets to hear his favourite music from earlier in his life. Other examples are shown when people are given pre-programmed i-pods with their music. It also gives instances where young people come with music to teach the elders how to use the technology to listen to their own music.

Again this is a film all about hope in the midst of despair. This is about waking up a culture to realize that elders are not without value, without desires, without contributions to make to the world as it now is. After viewing this documentary it is very difficult to look at older folk and not wonder what wisdom they could share, if only we would give them more places and opportunities to speak and be heard. Dementia ought not to be a sentence to life alone in a wheelchair in a hall of an institution — it should be a condition, like a broken arm or leg, that can be dealt with in ways that, while not completely eradicating the disease, gives people back a sense of purpose — joy at waking up in the morning, hope for an interesting day — and potential to still contribute, even in very small ways, to the growth and betterment of the younger generations.

Elders used to be honoured in every society. This documentary cautions us that if we don’t do more to restore elderhood to a place of significance in our world, we will lose some of our own humanity, especially if we don’t re-admit those with dementia back into society.