Agency and Masculinity in Alzheimer’s Disease: Cortex (2008) and The Memory of a Killer (2003)

  • Raquel MedinaEmail author


This chapter investigates the French crime film Cortex and the Dutch thriller The Memory of a Killer, in which the main characters are male. Using an approach based on questions of masculinity, ageing, and agency, and drawing on discussions around masculinity in thrillers, crime films, and film noir, this chapter highlights the techniques used by these films to enable the viewer to experience the subjectivity of a person living with Alzheimer’s disease. It also shows how Alzheimer’s disease is employed as a device with which to create suspense. Finally, this chapter illustrates the notion of personhood emerging from these films.


  1. Allocine. 2008. Cortex. Accessed May 6, 2018.
  2. Auster, P. 1987. City of Glass. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  3. Bailey, R. 2017. “ThoughtCo.” Accessed September 6, 2017.
  4. Basting, A.D. 2003. “Looking Back from Loss: Views of the Self in Alzheimer’s Disease.” Journal of Aging Studies 17: 87–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beard, R.L., J. Knauss, and D. Moyer. 2009. “Managing Disability and Enjoying Life: How We Reframe Dementia Through Personal Narratives.” Journal of Aging Studies 23: 227–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Behuniak, S.M. 2011. “The Living Dead? The Construction of People with Alzheimer’s Disease as Zombies.” Ageing and Society 31 (1): 70–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bitenc, R. 2012. “Representations of Dementia in Narrative Fiction.” In Knowledge and Pain, edited by E. Cohen, L. Toker, M. Consonni, and O. Dror, 305–329. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  8. Blaike, A. 1999. Ageing in Popular Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bourdieu, P. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Brody, H. 2003. Stories of Sickness. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Calasanti, T., and King, N. 2005. “Firming the Floppy Penis Age, Class, and Gender Relations in the Lives of Old Men.” Men and Masculinities 8 (1): 3–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chivers, S. 2011. The Silvering Screen: Old Age and Disability in Cinema. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  13. Clarens, C. 1997. Crime Movies. Edited by Foster Hirsch. Boston: Da Capo Press.Google Scholar
  14. Cohen, D., and C. Eisdorfer. 1986. The Loss of Self. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  15. Cohen-Shalev, A., and E. Marcus. 2012. All Over and Done with Indeed? Picturing Alzheimer’s Disease in Recent Films. Haifa: University of Haifa.Google Scholar
  16. Cowie, E. 1993. ‘Film Noir and Women.’ In Shades of Noir, edited by Joan Copjec, 121–166. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  17. Davies, B., and R. Harré. 1990. “Positioning: The Discursive Production of Selves.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 20 (1): 43–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Eakin, P.J. 1999. How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  19. ———. 2008. Living Autobiographically: How We Create Identity in Narrative. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Egbert, R. 2005. “The Memory of a Killer: A Review.” Accessed August 20, 2017.
  21. Featherstone, M., and A. Wernick. 1995. Images of Aging: Cultural Representations of Later Life. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Forter, G. 2007. “Detective Fiction, Crime Fiction.” In International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities, edited by N. Flood and J. Gardiner, 132–135. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Foucault, Michel. 1994. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  24. ———. 1995. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  25. Frank, A.W. 1995. The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics. Chicago: Chicago University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Friedan, B. 1993. The Fountain of Age. New York: Simon and Shuster.Google Scholar
  27. Gates, P. 2006. Detecting Men: Masculinity and the Hollywood Detective Film. New York: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  28. Gilleard, C., and P. Higgs. 2000. Cultures of Ageing: Self, Citizen and the Body. London: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  29. Grossman, J. 2009. Rethinking the Femme Fatale in Film Noir: Ready for Her Close-Up Front Cover. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hühn, P. 1987. “The Detective as Reader: Narrativity and Reading Concepts in Detective Fiction.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies 33 (3): 451–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jauss, H.R. 1992. Toward an Aesthetic of Reception. Translated by T. Bahti. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982.Google Scholar
  32. Jenkins, H. 1998. The Children’s Culture Reader. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Jewkes, Y. 2015. Media and Crime. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  34. Kaplan, E.A. 1998. Women in Film Noir. London: British Film Institute.Google Scholar
  35. Katz, S. 1996. Disciplining Old Age: The Formation of Gerontological Knowledge. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.Google Scholar
  36. ———. 2001. “Growing Older Without Aging? Positive Aging, Anti-Ageism, and Anti-Aging.” Generations 25 (4): 27–32.Google Scholar
  37. Katz, S., and B.L. Marshall. 2002. “‘Forever Functional’: Sexual Fitness and the Aging Male Body.” Body and Society 8 (4): 43–70.Google Scholar
  38. ———. 2003. “New Sex for Old: Lifestyle, Consumerism and the Ethics of Aging Well.” Journal of Aging Studies 17 (1): 3–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kitwood, T. 1993. “Towards a Theory of Dementia Care: The Interpersonal Process.” Ageing and Society 13 (1): 51–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. ———. 1997. Dementia Reconsidered: The Person Comes First. Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Kitwood, T., and K. Bredin. 1992. “Towards a Theory of Dementia Care: Personhood and Well-Being.” Ageing and Society 12: 269–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kontos, P.C. 2004. “Ethnographic Reflections on Selfhood, Embodiment and Alzheimer’s Disease.” Ageing and Society 24 (6): 829–849.Google Scholar
  43. ———. 2006. “Embodied Selfhood: An Ethnographic Exploration of Alzheimer’s Disease.” In Thinking About Dementia. Culture, Loss, and the Anthropology of Senility, edited by A. Leibing and L. Cohen, 195–217. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Google Scholar
  44. Krutnik, F. 2001. In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  45. Larner, W. 2000. “Neo-liberalism: Policy, Ideology, Governmentality.” Studies in Political Economy 63: 5–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lebeau, V. 2008. Childhood and Cinema. London: Reaktion Books.Google Scholar
  47. Leibing, A. 2006. “Divided Gazes: Alzheimer’s Disease, the Person Within and Death in Life.” In Thinking About Dementia: Culture, Loss, and the Anthropology of Senility, edited by A. Leibing and L. Cohen, 195–217. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Google Scholar
  48. Leicht, T. 2002. Crime Films. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  49. MacRae, H. 2010. “Managing Identity While Living with Alzheimer’s Disease.” Qualitative Health Research 20 (3): 293–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Marshall, B.L. 2002. “‘Hard Science’: Gendered Constructions of Sexual Dysfunction in the ‘Viagra Age’.” Sexualities 5 (2): 131–158.Google Scholar
  51. ———. 2006. “The New Virility: Viagra, Male Aging and Sexual Function Introduction.” Sexualities 9 (3): 345–362.Google Scholar
  52. ———. 2017. “Happily Ever After? ‘Successful Ageing’ and the Heterosexual Imaginary.” European Journal of Cultural Studies. Scholar
  53. Merleau-Ponty, M. 1962. The Phenomenology of Perception. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  54. Post, S. 2002. The Moral Challenge of Alzheimer Disease Ethical Issues from Diagnosis to Dying. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Powrie, P. 1997. French Cinema in the 1980s: Nostalgia and the Crisis of Masculinity. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  56. Priestman, M. 1991. Figure on the Carpet: Detective Fiction and Literature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  57. ———. 1998. Crime Fiction: From Poe to the Present. Tavistock: Northcote House.Google Scholar
  58. Rafter, N. 2006. Shots in the Mirror: Crime Films and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Ray, R. 2000. Beyond Nostalgia: Aging and Life-Story Writing. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.Google Scholar
  60. Rozanova, J. 2010. “Discourse of Successful Aging in the Globe and Mail: Insights from Critical Gerontology.” Journal of Aging Studies 24 (4): 213–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rzepka, C. 2005. Detective Fiction. New York: Polity.Google Scholar
  62. Sabat, S. 2002. “Surviving Manifestations of Selfhood in Alzheimer’s Disease.” Dementia 1 (1): 25–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sabat, S., and R. Harré. 1992. “The Construction and Deconstruction of Self in Alzheimer’s Disease.” Ageing and Society 12: 443–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sako, K. 2016. “Dementia and Detection in Elizabeth Is Missing and Turn of Mind 1.” Contemporary Women’s Writing 10 (3): 315–333.Google Scholar
  65. Sandberg, L. 2013. “Affirmative Old Age: The Ageing Body and Feminist Theories on Difference.” International Journal of Ageing and Later Life 8 (1): 11–40. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Shabahangi, N., G. Faustman, J. Thai, and P. Fox. 2009. “Some Observations on the Social Consequences of Forgetfulness and Alzheimer’s Disease: A Call for Attitudinal Expansion.” Journal of Aging, Humanities, and the Arts 3: 38–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Shadden, B., F. Hagstrom, and P.R. Koski. 2008. Neurogenic Communication Disorders: Life Stories and the Narrative Self. San Diego: Plural Publishing and Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  68. Simpson, P.L. 2000. Psycho Paths: Tracking the Serial Killer Through Contemporary American Film. Carbondale: Souther Illinois University.Google Scholar
  69. Simpson, P. 2010. “Noir and the Psycho Thriller.” In A Companion to Crime Fiction, edited by C. Rzepka and L. Horsley, 187–197. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Steenberg, L. 2013. Forensic Science in Contemporary American Popular Culture: Gender, Crime, and Science. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  71. Stewart, V. 2006. Narratives of Memory: British Writing of the 1940s. Basingstoke: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Swinnen, A. 2012. “Everyone Is Romeo and Juliet: Staging Dementia in Wellkåmm to Verona by Suzanne Osten.” Journal of Aging Studies 26 (3): 309–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Zeilig, H. 2014. “Dementia as a Cultural Metaphor.” The Gerontologist 203: 1–10.Google Scholar
  74. Zimmermann, M. 2017. The Poetics and Politics of Alzheimer’s Disease Life-Writing. Accessed August 18, 2017.


  1. Cortex. Directed by Nicolas Boukhrief. France: Les Films du Worso, 2008.Google Scholar
  2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Directed by Miloš Forman. USA: RKO Radio Pictures, 1975.Google Scholar
  3. Remember. Directed by Atom Egoyan. Canada: Serendipity Point Films, 2015.Google Scholar
  4. Spectre. Directed by Sam Mendes. UK: B24, 2015.Google Scholar
  5. The Memory of a Killer. Directed by Erik Van Looy. Belgium: MMG Film & TV Production, 2003.Google Scholar
  6. Vertigo. Directed by Alfred J. Hitchcock. USA: Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, 1958.Google Scholar
  7. Welcome to Verona. Directed by Suzanne Osten. Denmark: Filmlance International AB, 2006.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Languages and Social SciencesAston UniversityBirminghamUK

Personalised recommendations