This is the story of the last few weeks in the life of the British film director, James Whale. After a series of strokes his mental health is rapidly deteriorating. He can clearly remember events that happened 40 years ago, but he forgets what happened a few hours ago. His only companions are his housekeeper Hanna and his new gardener Clayton. While sitting with Clayton he talks about his experiences as an officer in the First World War, and also about his most famous films, "Frankenstein", "The Invisible Man", "Showboat" and particularly "Bride of Frankenstein".
The film is disturbing to me for personal reasons. I find it distasteful to watch films in which people suffer from senility. It's something that I fear for myself. For me my brain is my most prized asset, and the idea that I might no longer be able to think clearly when I'm older fills me with horror. I would rather be unable to walk than unable to think logically. My worst fear is that if it ever happens I might not even be aware of it. My grandfather became senile in his final months, which expressed itself in him being rude and swearing at everyone. A short time later he didn't even remember what he had said. It was terrifying. On the other hand my mother, who lived longer than him, kept a clear mind up to the end of her life.
It's a strength of the film that it nevertheless brought me to tears in the final scenes. Ian McKellan gave a moving performance as James Whale, for which he received an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. I have a suspicion that apart from the senility Ian was playing himself. Those who have seen the film will know what I mean. I was also astounded by Brendan Fraser's performance as the gardner, Clayton Boone. He's not an actor that I usually associate with tender, sentimental roles, but his acting was so subtle and multi-layered that it was breathtaking. He was the one who most deserved an Oscar, as Best Supporting Actor.
In his suicide note James Whale wrote:
Do not grieve for me. My nerves are all shot and for the last year I have been in agony day and night -- except when I sleep with sleeping pills -- and any peace I have by day is when I am drugged by pills.
I have had a wonderful life but it is over and my nerves get worse and I am afraid they will have to take me away. So please forgive me, all those I love and may God forgive me too, but I cannot bear the agony and it is best for everyone this way.
The future is just old age and illness and pain. Goodbye and thank you for all your love. I must have peace and this is the only way.
22 July 1889 – 29 May 1957