A small, intimate film about a massive issue, the affecting doc Do You Know What My Name Is? is one of a growing number of movies (nonfiction and fiction) to examine Alzheimer’s/dementia, an affliction that itself affects ever-growing numbers of people as baby boomers age and medical advances extend the life expectancy.
Co-directed by Naomi Kazama and Shigeru Ota, Do You Know is set in the Eliza Jennings Senior Care Network in Cleveland, where it spends six months following healthcare worker John Rodeman as he takes part in experimental therapy that promises to halt or reverse the effects of dementia. Playing (and looking) like a home movie that has been tricked out with digestible scientific content, the film is also incredibly moving.
That’s in large part due to the personality of Rodeman (who could be the achingly earnest real-life brother of Al Franken’s Stuart Smalley character) as he interacts with his patients. The surprisingly dry humor of some of the seniors as they recover something of themselves, and the vibrancy that returns to them as the treatment takes hold, is thoroughly engrossing. Blank or befuddled faces slowly come to life, and a bit of vinegar returns to some of the personalities.
At one point well into her treatment, 93-year-old Evelyn, who had retreated into herself and had difficulty expressing a full thought, is asked by a nurse to come for a walk. With ace comic timing the elder shoots back, “No. I’m very satisfied with my life.”