Last week Will Farrell withdrew from playing Ronald Reagan in a dark comedy that portrays the former president lapsing into dementia in his second term. In the movie, President Reagan is duped by an intern to think he is “an actor in a movie.” The script has received an enthusiastic response on the Black List, a catalogue of unproduced scripts, and was praised in Hollywood circles. Farrell’s decision was apparently influenced by the outcry from Reagan’s family.
For those who experience the disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s are no laughing matter. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are arguably the most painful and debilitating diseases anyone can face. President Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, said, ‘"I watched as fear invaded my father’s eyes -- this man who was never afraid of anything. I heard his voice tremble as he stood in the living room and said, 'I don’t know where I am.' I watched helplessly as he reached for memories, for words, that were suddenly out of reach and moving farther away. For ten long years he drifted -- past the memories that marked his life, past all that was familiar ... and mercifully, finally past the fear.”
As we age, we all experience the loss of health and strength. But, perhaps most of all, we fear the loss of memory and cognitive function. We all have friends who are fighting this terrible disease and many of us have watched families thoughtfully, faithfully and tenderly care for those they love as they slowly slip away.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three senior adults will die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
The proposed Reagan movie is another indication that we are in danger of selling our soul for entertainment. We are sacrificing human decency and respect for the latest laugh or another buck in the bank. We may be on the brink of becoming a demented society, not as the result of a disease like dementia or Alzheimer’s, but by being seduced to seek our own gratification at the expense of others.
Many have watched with disbelief as a reality TV star stands on the verge of claiming the Republication nomination for President. Reality TV is bleeding over into the real world and distorting our perception of real problems and real solutions. In our entertainment crazy world, we are on the brink of sacrificing sound and reasoned judgement.
It is increasingly evident that we need a moral and spiritual renewal. We need the kind of renewal that causes us to treat others with decency and respect. As Paul wrote, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. ... Give preference to one another in honor.” (Romans 12:9-10). “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7).
We need to reclaim the aspirations of Solomon: “To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtlety to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.” (Proverbs 1:2-4).