‘Still Mine’ follows the story of Craig Morrison (James Cromwell), an elderly farmer trying to build a new home for him and his wife, Irene (Geneviève Bujold). The unexpected hurdles that are preventing him to go through with his plan and the novel struggles that surface with Irene’s progressing dementia demands of Craig to compromise on certain things and to let go of others.
Change and the Carer
Times are changing. The rules and regulations that Craig is forced to abide by while actualizing their new home are daunting and superfluous. He is facing a whole new set of bureaucratic obstacles and has to fight every step of the way. Adding to his worries, Irene is changing as well. The early signs of dementia start becoming more and more prevalent and cannot be overlooked. Forgetting the surprisingly simple, important or obvious, becoming sleepy mid-day or gazing aimlessly into the nothingness all become part of Irene’s days. Although he is surprised, Craig ignores them without giving it too much thought before the more worrying signs of what Irene is going through begin to appear. Leaving the oven mitt on the burning stove, falling down the stairs, disappearing or hysterically fighting when something doesn’t go her way all give Craig tough questions to answer as to how to continue.
In an attempt to ensure Irene’s safety and comfort, Craig rearranges their current home to suit her better until they move into their new house – almost akin to when parents ‘babyproof’ their apartment. The upstairs is gated, the downstairs living room becomes the bedroom and he relocates the bathroom to the porch for an easier access. Signs and labels appear on their walls to help Irene navigate and find places and things. Craig also installs a babyphone to always be alerted when his wife is looking for him or needs help. Furthermore, he takes over some of her main responsibilities and to Irene’s biggest surprise becomes the chef of the house after sixty-something years together.
While with the construction of their new home he knows he is in the right fighting unnecessary regulations and an unjust system, with Irene he is aware that he has to change his ways to accommodate her new way of being. He feels a tremendous amount of guilt when losing his temper, shouting or physically dragging Irene into the house against her will, even though despite his obvious overwhelm his best intentions are evident on all occasions. Admitting his shame to his children regarding how he responded in certain difficult situations with Irene prompts him to finally allow them to help with the unfolding situation. The movie very sensitively highlights the strain dementia puts on a full-time carer, who in spite of their devotion may be under so much pressure in critical situations that they are unable to manage it in a dignified manner.
“You don’t just drag someone”
Family and Community
“I’m not so sure she even knows what she wants anymore”
“Yes, she does.”
Different generations often have contrasting ideas regarding the best approach to the same issue. When these two worlds collide conflicts are inevitable. This is the case with the building society and its disapproval of Craig’s construction and it doesn’t happen otherwise within the Cromwell family either. Two of Craig and Irene’s adult children are trying to convince their father to send their mother to a home or allow for help around the house. Despite their continuous efforts to persuade him, Craig unequivocally refuses all assistance and is against even the mention of a care home or additional help for him or Irene. Being the husband he assumes complete responsibility for taking care of his wife. It is only after a number of frightening accidents and a hip fracture when he finally comes around and agrees to accept additional help caring for Irene. Having a community – such as the farming community in rural Canada – provides a network one can rely on when times are difficult. It is not without conflicts and they might not all see eye to eye as to what is in the best interest of the person affected. When Irene begins to struggle with her condition and is no longer able to help Craig in taking care of their home, their neighbour immediately steps in to offer their help with tasks Irene had to give up. Despite Craig having his mind set on his way of doing things, as any eighty-something would, both his family and tight-knit neighbourhood contribute as much as he allows for helping with Irene as well as their new home.
Devoted and Determined
Swimming against the current trying to convince the authorities to allow him to continue building also appears to symbolise the upstream battle of living with someone who has dementia; when you think you have figured it all out, a new phenomenon presents itself waiting to be addressed. This slow-moving and touching film tells a story of resilience and authenticity and remaining true to your values even when all is seemingly against you. It shines a light on the importance of building new foundations and beginning new chapters with confidence even in the twilight of your life. The storyline is centred on learning to adapt to changes to the best of one’s abilities – as it must be the case when any life-altering condition presents itself – and coming to terms with what this may bring for times that still lie ahead.