Director: Catherine Forster
Running time: 5mins
Death waits for us in many forms. Some are quick and unexpected – events which ghost us away from this world without warning, and which can seem especially cruel when someone who was here today is gone tomorrow. But death is not always instantaneous.
Sometimes it can take months or years of someone slowly ebbing away, as is often the case with dementia. In that time, small aspects of a beloved human will vanish, perhaps without even being noticed at first, until one day whatever is left is no longer capable of forming that single definitive whole anymore. There is no form of death which is easy to cope with – but I suspect the pressures this kind of exit put on those left in its wake make it especially bitter.
Catherine Forster’s experimental short film Memory Care: The Long Goodbye is a haunting examination of a deteriorating mind and the void it leaves behind. Footage old and new echoes and overlaps throughout its brief run-time, painting a disorientating picture of half-remembered moments and crossed tangled synapses, each gasping for air as a collapsing mind struggles to recognise and organise them.
The sequence which serves as a framing device for the broader library of recollections sees a lone figure padding across an icy snowscape. As the individual shuffles down the white road, their shadow looms large before them, shifting shapes across the bumps and cracks in the ground. As the figure wanders literally, their mind also seems to want to go on a figurative journey, initially conjuring up images of a person struggling to walk through mud in heels. Perhaps this comes to mind because the figure is similarly finding their trip tough going in the snow, but it also seems to signify the way the person’s mind is becoming bogged down in other scattered recollections, which are impairing its ability to stay on track.
Several other images flash across the screen, ranging from home movies of children playing outdoors, to what appears to be newsreel of a diving contest. Some of these may be memories of life events, others may be elements of events that happened to others, but robbed of their original context have been taken as things that occurred directly to our subject. And as they appear, the walking – which had reached a rapid pace – slows to a stop. In the silence which follows, the figure stares at its shadow in the snow, confused, as if it no longer recognises itself, or its whereabouts.
Amid what should be warm memories, there is an element of melancholic shock, then. These things that once meant so much are now estranged from the human mind that gave them meaning. What remains is a ghost, which wanders on unaware that whoever it once was has ceased to be.
This is a subject which lends itself well to experimental cinema. Forster uses the opportunity to layer imagery in a way that both enhances and obscures what is going on, gradually inviting us to see the world from the terrifying perspective of the figure in the snow, losing sight of itself amid the white noise of vague snippets of B-roll. At the same time, we are given insight into the distress this leaves loved ones observing from the outside – as the figure’s shadow finally seems to split, moving in separate directions, pulling apart that single, whole, identity, during a long and emotionally exhausting goodbye. It’s heart-breaking conceptual storytelling, and Forster deserves great credit for the restraint it will have taken not to offer up something more literal, while discussing such an important topic.