The Artist’s Wife
by director/co-writer Tom Dolby
In making this film, my creative team and I were faced with a dilemma: stories about women spending their lives supporting their husbands are not, rightly so, where our culture is oriented today. They may strike us as retrograde or well-trodden ground, not worthy of exploration. In our film The Artist’s Wife, we wanted to reclaim this narrative, showing the tail end of this journey of living in and coming out of the shadows. Though we see Claire, the main character, making great sacrifices, with dignity, to the film’s conclusion, we know she has a future beyond that with Richard, her husband. Claire’s story, the part we see, is one of commitment, of sticking with the life she has chosen, at least until circumstances change. My hope is that The Artist’s Wife honors the many women and men who have stuck by their partners, artists or otherwise, through challenging circumstances.
Though the film’s story begins with Richard’s disease inciting a series of incidents, The Artist’s Wife is not an “Alzheimer’s movie” in the traditional sense. Our story is instead about the caregiver, about Claire’s experience with the disease. Seven years ago, I was inspired by what my mother went through in supporting my father in his struggle. As the years went by after his death, I noticed that in films, the perspective of the caretaker was largely ignored. Whether one views our story as an Alzheimer’s movie or not, Richard’s dementia represents to Claire a call to reclaim her own past when it is, like his memories, in danger of slipping away. His illness prompts her passage into her creative soul, not initially to protect his dignity, but to save her own. As these two goals collide at the end of the film, she must make the decision that is right for her.
Society and popular culture have told us that the years around sixty are about slowing down, about retiring, a word that originated as meaning “to withdraw to a place of safety or seclusion.” But why should the third act of life be one of retreating, repressing, hiding? My hope for Claire at the end of the film is that she is ready for a new chapter, one in which she will shine as brightly as her husband once did. “The problem with being constantly surrounded by bright lights,” she says, “is that they make you feel there’s already enough light in the world.” May the film’s narrative allow Claire to release this belief and let her talent run free, its brilliant beams lighting up the sky.