Memory loss and cognitive decline are common symptoms among people diagnosed with Dementia. Over time, these primary symptoms progress (Alzheimer’s disease) and often lead to inadequate self-care or even the failure to remember family members, especially a significant other. In the opening scene of The Notebook, one of the main characters (Allie) gazes out her window and imagines a young man (Noah) rowing his canoe. It is this scene that begins Allie’s journey of remembering her relationship with Noah. The plot centers around a young man named Noah who works at a lumber yard and falls in love with a young woman named Allie who eventually suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Throughout the film, Noah spends each day retelling the story of his relationship with Allie by reading from her notebook where she wrote “Read this to me and I’ll come back to you” (The Notebook, 2004). Based on this, Noah believes that this notebook is the only way to spark Allie’s memory of their life together.
Although the film does not explicitly reveal that Allie has Alzheimer’s disease it can be inferred from her disorientation, confusion, memory lapses (both anterograde and retrograde amnesia) and lack of communication when Noah and family members interact with her. Over the course of the film, Allie’s declarative memory becomes worse. She has no recollection of how she met and fell in love with Noah (episodic) nor does she remember Noah’s name or even her children and grandchildren’s names (semantic). An example that illustrates Allie’s inability to recognize her own children and grandchildren (facial agnosia) is when they came to visit her and she said “Nice to meet you” as if she had never met them before. Even though Allie’s declarative memory is severely impaired, her skill memory (nondeclarative) is still intact. She not only can play the piano, but she can read sheet music. Allie’s ability to play the piano is an example of a closed perceptual-motor skill because it involves processing sensory inputs and executing fine motor finger movements. Thus, procedural memories are distinct from declarative memories because they can be retrieved without conscious awareness.
In another scene, Noah and Allie are eating dinner together. After dinner, Noah turns on the radio to hear a song from when they were young that they always danced to. He asks Allie to dance and it is in this moment that she remembers Noah. The song not only triggered her memory of Noah, but it also sparked her remembrance that the story he read to her was about them. Even though Allie does not remember the specific details of her relationship with Noah, she remembers how dancing with Noah made her feel. It is the experience of dancing with Noah when she was young and the emotion she felt in the past that enabled her to remember him in this moment. This relates to mood congruence because Allie was able to recall her memory of Noah since her emotional state while dancing in this moment matched how she felt when this memory of dancing was encoded in the past. Overall, this scene exemplifies the power of emotion and how it influences memory encoding and retrieval because if an experience has intense emotion tied to it, an individual, even Allie with Alzheimer’s disease, is more likely to remember it.
With regards to the neural basis, Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease. This means that Allie’s memory loss is due to the death of neurons and synapses within her cerebral cortex. Since neurons are undergoing apoptosis, her cortex is thinner than a person without Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease progresses and becomes more severe, neuronal death increases so much that the temporal lobe, frontal cortex, hippocampus, cingulate gyrus, and parietal lobe begin to atrophy. More specifically, amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are the factors that cause this extensive loss of synapses and neurons in the brain. If the protein beta amyloid builds-up in the brain without being broken down, it leads to increased protein deposits (plaques) between neurons, which disrupts cell-to-cell communication. Since plaques prevent cells from communicating with each other; cell death results. The other factor that is thought to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease is neurofibrillary tangles, which are abnormal protein (tau) fibers inside neurons that cluster together. As tau proteins accumulate in the brain, they disrupt neuronal signaling between cells, which eventually causes cells to die. Individuals without Alzheimer’s disease do have some amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in their brains, but this is normal due to aging. Allie has an abnormal number of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in her brain due to Alzheimer’s disease, which is what lead to her neurocognitive decline.
As for my Rotten Tomatoes review of The Notebook, I do not think that Alzheimer’s disease was authentically portrayed through Allie’s character. My rationale for this is because Alzheimer’s disease is more than just memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease includes difficulty completing complex tasks, a degeneration of language (aphasia), an impaired ability to carry out motor activities (apraxia), and personality changes. Allie did not exhibit any of these symptoms besides memory loss. Regarding this, I think Allie was supposed to be depicted in the film as having a late-stage of Alzheimer’s disease, but the way she actually appeared was to be in the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. My reasoning for this is because I believe that an individual who was in a late-stage of Alzheimer’s would not have such an upkept physical appearance as Allie did, be as active as her, or talk as much as she did. An individual with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease would seldom speak, inadequately care for himself or herself, and possibly be bedridden. Ultimately, The Notebook is not only the most cliché film, but it also inaccurately depicts Alzheimer’s disease which is why it is rated 53% on the Tomatometer.
- Harris, L., & Johnson, M. (Producers), Cassavetes, N. (Director). (2004). The Notebook [Motion Picture]. United States: New Line Cinema.