The Memory Keeper’s Daughter (2008, USA)

When my wife read the Kim Edwards’ book, “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” for weeks she couldn’t talk about anything else. Fortunately she didn’t tell me the whole story or its end, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the movie made from the book. Enjoyment in this case doesn’t refer to the feeling of warm, fuzzy pleasure, but more to the recognition of the feeling the movie evoked in me.

The story is both tragic and heartwarming. A doctor delivers his wife twins. The girl has Down Syndrome. The doctor asks the nurse to take the baby to a home and he decided to tell his wife that the baby died. His decision was based on the pain he witnessed in his own mother’s life, because he had a sick sister who died at a young age. The nurse decides to raise the child and does so far way from the doctor. He is haunted throughout his life by his life-altering decision and it ruins his marriage and shadows his relationship with his son too. The movie follows the twins’ (and their parents’) lives till they are in their twenties.

I won’t be revealing more of the story, except to tell you that the nurse grows into not just an excellent, caring and loving mother, but also an advocate for the rights of people with Down Syndrome. I suspect the book covers more of this aspect of their lives. The movie has only a few scenes, including one where she stands up at a school board so her daughter would be allowed to attend. Her fight ends in success, but only by the time she is old enough to graduate school.

The title refers to the doctor/father’s hobby of taking photograph’s with his memory keeping machine. Besides being a bit sentimental I cannot say anything bad about this movie. The acting is phenomenal all around. The nurse’s character has the greatest depth, played by Emily Watson, even if she gets slightly less screentime than the father. The emotions of the father–who continually torments himself for most of his life, asks whether he made the right decision and hides the secret from his wife and son—were portrayed by Dermot Mulroney in both sympathy and antipathy provoking ways. There is no higher praise I can give to him. Krystal Hope Nausbaum, an actress with Down Syndrome played the daughter, Phoebe, in her teen years, again flawlessly and charmingly. The twin brother (Jamie Spilchuk), the biological mother (Gretchen Mol), the nurse’s husband (Hugh Thompson) were all composite characters with their own set of issues. In short none of the major characters had simple roles and they all executed them with total immersion. I never saw the actors/actresses only the people engaged in their life stories.

I saw the movie a few days ago, but wanted to write up my review specifically today, because March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. Here are the opening lines of the official site:

Down Syndrome International (DSI) has officially earmarked 21 March as World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD). The date was chosen to signify the uniqueness of Down syndrome in the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome and is used synonymously with Down syndrome. Commemoration of World Down Syndrome Day started on 21 March 2006, it has ” grown ” manifold globally.

The annual observance of WDSD aims to promote awareness and understanding of Down syndrome and related issues : and to mobilise support and recognition of the dignity, rights and well being of persons with Down syndrome.

DVD @ Amazon.com

IMDB’s summary: A father separates his son from his twin sister at birth to prevent him and the mother from knowing she was born with Down syndrome. Based on the novel by Kim Edwards.

Trailer:

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