I have always been an avid follower of Louis Theroux's documentaries. Not only because I love the man but because they have always been an interesting and engaging watch. His most recent work aired last week on the BBC 'Extreme love - Dementia' and it proved to be his most emotionally rewarding documentary so far.
It began as a timid watch purely because of the subject matter but it evolved into the most touching and delicate program I have watched for some time. The shock and awe factor that is present in some of his previous work was mellowed down from its sometimes wacky level to something very real. Louis as usual met with a range of people from a 49 year old woman who was in the early stages of the disease to 89 year old Nancy who was cared for solely by her husband who she barely recognised. The progression of the disease was both apparent and scary and was visualised through the range of sufferers he met up with on his journey.
The reason why Louis Theroux is so good in these situations is because he understands when less is more. He knows when to ask more penetrating questions to their loved ones in order to help the viewer fully understand their situation but he also knows when to say one sentence summaries that evoke an even more real emotional reaction.
In one case Louis met up with a woman whose husband no longer recognized her and referred to her as an old colleague. Their relationship was cold and heartbreaking to watch, especially as the man was having relations with another woman in the home which his wife knew about and accepted. Louis took them on a walk and whilst talking to the sufferer's wife her husband was in the background holding hands with another resident as though they had been married for years.
The documentary not only portrayed the pain staking responsibility of the family members involved in caring for their loved ones but also occasionally captured magical moments of the lost ones themselves. And it was in these moments when a sufferer stopped for a brief second and looked as though they recognized their loved one or gave them a hug that the program came alive and gave you a real human understanding and empathy towards them.
Although they were the type of Americans I don't get on board with the most worrying scenario was the 49 year old woman who had been recently diagnosed. The woman had a husband and child and was digressing to the point of not being able to draw a clock face. Her husband faced the responsibility of what to do In the future both financially and morally as her disease progresses. He mentioned divorce as a financially viable move as then she would become the states responsibility with regards to paying for care. The 49 year old faced the horrible realisation that she may not recognize her husband and child in 2 years time.
Louis himself seemed to grow and understand more after originally making the mistake of talking about a sufferer as though they weren't there. He was instructed by a worker at the home not to do such a thing even though it was unintentional. He was later trusted to care for the elderly Nancy for a morning, perhaps one of the only presenters on T.V with enough kind heartedness and honesty to pull such a task off. Nancy later fell asleep on his shoulder whilst looking through old photographs of herself, a moment of T.V that even Disney would have been proud of.
I once again doff my cap to you Louis, a touching documentary capable of making people laugh and cry in the same moment.
I imagine people directly affected by the disease would agree that these emotions can come hand in hand.