Caregiving can thrust us into some of the toughest, most heartbreaking, unthinkable scenarios. Though it’s a universal issue, it’s a subject that is often overlooked or swept under the rug.
But some filmmakers have chosen instead to delve into the rich emotional complexity of caregiving by tackling the topic on the big screen. Below, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite movies about caregiving. These touching films offer glimpses of the many different emotions associated with caring for an ailing loved one – from the anger, sadness and the heartache to the absurdity, grace and unexpected humor.
1. Still Alice (2014)
Based on a bestselling novel of the same name, Still Alice is the story of a celebrated linguistics professor and mother of three adult children (Julianne Moore) who begins to forget her words. A diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease soon follows, forever changing the lives of the main character and her family. Moore’s portrayal of Alice earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress, and watching this movie, it’s easy to see why.
2. Away from Her (2006)
A married couple must confront some devastating decisions after the wife, played by Julie Christie, is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The husband (Michael Murphy) must cope with his wife’s move into an assisted living facility, where she strikes up a romantic relationship with another resident.
3. The Savages (2007)
A sister and brother (Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman) return to their hometown to care for their estranged father, who is suffering from dementia. The film follows the pair as they face a range of tough caregiving situations – from moving him into a nursing home to taking on his end-of-life wishes.
4. Theory of Everything (2014)
The Theory of Everything depicts the true-life romance of world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane Wilde Hawking (Felicity Jones). The biographical drama, based on Wilde Hawking’s memoir, shows how the couple coped after Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and told he had just two years to live. We also see the effect caregiving had on their marriage.
5. Happy Tears (2009)
In a similar situation to the siblings in The Savages, Happy Tears is the story of two sisters played (Parker Posey and Demi Moore) who reunite and return to their childhood home to care for their ailing dad (Rip Torn). The movie focuses more on the comedic and sometimes uncomfortable aspects of caregiving and dealing with family dilemmas. It may resonate particularly with "Sandwich Generation" caregivers or anyone whose relationship with a sibling shifted after caring for a parent.
6. Miss You Already (2015)
This British romantic comedy-drama film gives a rare glimpse of how illness, caregiving and facing death can affect a lifelong friendship, as well as a marriage. Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette play best friends whose lives and friendship are changed when one is diagnosed with cancer.
7. The Descendants (2011)
A real estate mogul (George Clooney) attempts to repair his fractured relationship with his two daughters after his wife is gravely injured in a boat crash. While the film is less focused on caregiving than others on this list, the story involves many of the universal themes evoked by caring for an ill loved one: redefining family relationships, the importance of a strong support system, and facing a loved one’s mortality.
8. 50/50 (2011)
In 50/50, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a young man whose life is upended when he learns he has cancer and a 50/50 chance of survival. The comedic drama takes an honest and often humorous look at the ways illness can change your priorities and reveal the most important people in your life.
Denise Graab contributed to this article.