MPT's 'Grace' depicts a touching love story brimming with joy, tears


November 05, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"Grace" is about an elderly woman who can't remember what day it is and who continually breaks into tears. She needs help dressing and eating. Her eyes often have the look of an animal caught in a trap.

One of the few things she connects with are the lyrics, "Jesus loves me this I know/ 'Cause the Bible tells me so." She sings it with the voice of a child.

"Grace," which airs at 10 tonight on MPT, is one of the greatest love stories you are ever going to see on TV -- anywhere on TV. That's not exaggeration.

The documentary is another exquisitely touching effort from local filmmakers Susan Hadary-Cohen and William Whiteford, whose most recent film, "Marge and Walter," won numerous awards. "Grace" is the story of Grace Kirkland, a victim of Alzheimer's disease; it chronicles 10 years of her life and the ravages of the disease.

But that's only half the story. The other half is about Glenn Kirkland, her husband, a former physicist at the Johns Hopkins University. Their relationship forms the love story.

During the course of the film, we see Glenn retire from teaching and become a full-time caregiver for his wife. We see him dress her, paint her fingernails, play tic-tac-toe with her even though she can no longer remember how to play. We see him hold her hand to calm her fears as she sits for a home haircut and hug her when hand-holding isn't enough.

There are moments in this film that distill emotion so well they should be freeze-framed and hung on the wall. One such scene occurs at the Inner Harbor during an outing. The couple is eating a picnic lunch on a bench when a magician comes along. Notice the look of joy and wonder in Grace's eyes as the magician makes a handkerchief appear in Glenn's shirt pocket. Compare it to the look of fear in her eyes on their first visit to a foster day-care home.

The final scene at Grace's funeral -- as the Presbyterian choir sings "Amazing Grace" -- is simply overwhelming. The cut from a close-up of Glenn's face to a montage of the life he shared with Grace will break your heart -- especially the snapshot of them as young and very-much-alive newlyweds in a relaxed moment.

The film is so good it hurts to watch. But stay with it. "Grace" offers one of the most rewarding and ultimately uplifting experiences TV is capable of delivering.

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