An Alzheimer's Documentary
In the days before her wedding, a young filmmaker explores the meaning of love and commitment as she composes a series of poignant letters to her father who has Alzheimer’s disease.
documentary / 14 mins
PRODUCED, DIRECTED & EDITED BY ZOË SMURR
WINNER of YOUNG FILMMAKER PRIZE and RUNNER-UP JURY PRIZE at 2016 Living with Alzheimer's Film Competition
WINNER of BEST FILM at Loyola Marymount Film Festival
About the relationship between a young filmmaker and her father who has Alzheimer's disease, "Love, Zoë" follows the filmmaker's journey as she prepares to get married and have her dad walk her down the aisle, and as her mom prepares to divorce her dad and marry his caregiver.
Many people have awed at my ability to put such a deeply personal story out there, but I honestly couldn’t imagine having made a film about anything else.
There is an allusion to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in the opening of the film. More precisely, it is a reference to Sarah Ruhl’s play Eurydice. The play reimagines the myth from Eurydice’s perspective, as the newlywed faces the choice of returning to Earth with her husband, or staying in the Underworld with her father.
Once Eurydice is dipped into the River of Forgetfulness and enters the Underworld, she cannot recognize her father, who has worked tirelessly to retain as much of his “living memory” as possible. For the rest of the play, he teaches her to remember who he is, the life they’d had before he passed away, and even her name. I found it an oddly comforting parallel to my experience with my dad since his diagnosis when I was 15 years old, reminding him of who he is and who I am – that maybe one day, in the next life, he could answer all the questions about himself I’d never get an answer to in this one.
I also wanted to meditate on the weight and meaning of marriage in light of Alzheimer’s. I’d only ever seen stories that showed couples who stayed together “‘til the end.” I wanted to show the reality that so many spouses and caregivers face but are too ashamed to talk about.
It took me a while to come to terms with my mom’s decision to divorce my dad, and I will not pretend to fully grasp the loss she has endured for over eight years and continues to endure every day. I didn’t get it until one day when I realized that my dad is actually more at peace now than he’s ever been in his adult life, released from his inner-demons, without a care in the world. It is my mom who lives daily with the pain, loss and burden.
It's through the experience of making this film that I’ve learned you cannot run away from your grief – you must lean into it in order to heal. Especially as an artist: lean into the things that scare and hurt you the most – it is the only way to survive.