I recently watched two films dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and how it affects those diagnosed and their families. While each movie did a good job of showing the challenges and burdens experienced when a family member is afflicted, they also presented worldviews, complete with presuppositions, subtly woven into these personal stories.
One film depicted a committed, elderly man intent on making his wife’s final years comfortable as her illness progressed. Being an independent sort, he determined to build a new, single-story home for her on his property to reduce the incidents of falls. This resulted in a conflict with the local bureaucracy regarding what he could and could not do with his land, burdening him with permits and regulations that would serious hinder his plan. Therefore, along with the surface story, the message of the loss of liberties and the freedom to decide how one uses possessions was an underlying theme. At the film’s conclusion, the audience witnessed not only the care and patience of a faithful spouse, but also the extent to which civil government has encroached into our lives.
The second film depicted an accomplished professor who mourns the loss of her intellect and her academic career as she comes to terms with the reality that she has Alzheimer’s disease. The story unfolds in a patient manner, causing the audience to feel what this woman feels as she confronts a grim future.
Underlying thematic elements were presented as “givens” rather than ones that merit important moral deliberation. For example, when the family discovers that the Alzheimer’s is genetic, the eldest daughter receives testing which confirms she is a carrier. She and her husband, already in the process of fertility treatments, have the embryos tested to ensure that only ones without the genetic defect are implanted. No one raises moral or ethical dilemmas and asks important questions such — what will happen to the other embryos, and are they people or merely blobs of tissue? For them, they have averted a crisis and have made the sensible choice. Since the characters are likable and appear to have no problem with this decision, we, the audience, should accept this as good, standard practice.
The film also conveyed the message that those with Alzheimer’s become somewhat less than full people. As the professor experiences the rapid decline in her ability to recall the simplest things, she visits a care facility for Alzheimer’s patients to see what her life will be like. She does not like what she sees. As the thought of having such a shallow existence grieves her, she purposes to end her own life. Knowing that she may not remember how to commit suicide, she makes a video to herself, leaving specific instructions: where to find the pills with which to overdose, and when to seize the opportunity to do so. She sees this as a viable alternative that will spare her family the burden of dealing with her as her disease progresses. The movie presents the crisis, but offers nothing other than personal, man-centered solutions.
Most movies (and literature for that matter) present a surface story along with deeper, less obvious, themes woven into the main plot. Unless we come to such encounters with a Biblical worldview, we may be swayed into accepting counterfeit solutions that seem to be compassionate and caring.
The Bible provides us with laws that, as creatures of the Almighty, we must embrace fully, whether or not they sit well with us. God’s rules are not incidental nor arbitrary. Thus, if a child is born with a handicap or illness, we should not deem this a mistake, but rather an opportunity for service as unto the Lord. If a loved one or we suffer a debilitating injury or illness, rather than focus on how difficult it will be for us or for them, we should embrace it as part of God’s sovereign plan and carry on in faith.
We must make the law of God the fabric of our lives. For if we refuse to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, we have become practical secularists. This is what our modern culture wishes us to become, and surrounds us with moving stories to help achieve this result. The goal of God’s Kingdom is the total holiness of all things. When we make this our starting and ending points, we will be better able to see the false solutions presented by a culture at war with God.