Directed by: Sarah Polley
Written by: Sarah Polley
Starring: Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Michael Murphy, Kristen Thomson
You know, it’s never fun to have your own biggest fear manifest itself on a screen. That’s exactly what Away From Her channels and through the excellent screenplay and directing, it tells an incredibly moving and touching story about what happens when the love of your life seemingly forgets you through Alzheimer’s.
Fiona (Julie Christie) and Grant (Gordon Pinsent) live as a retired married couple when Fiona begins to lose her memory. The memory loss gets so bad that Fiona decides to check herself into a nursing home against the desires of her husband. They eventually agree that she needs the support but the home does not allow any visitors for 30 days in order to give the new residents the ability to adjust. When Grant returns after those 30 days, he learns about his new reality.
Writing about Away From Her has become such a challenge for me because it captures a feeling of helplessness and love in a way that hurts. Its beautiful reflection on life and love only to be cut short by the most horrid disease of them all, Alzheimer’s, is hard to take but the results unquestionably indicate great filmmaking. It follows a couple that lived their lives and reached the age where they should find some enjoyment. No other large engagements, they have put in their time in their respective positions and now have the rest of their lives to devote to each other until this disease kicks in.
I could not help but insert myself into the story when watching it because it shows my biggest fear in life. I’m married to my best friend in the world, who I plan to spend the rest of my life with and the last thing I would ever want is to forget her through Alzheimer’s. I would honestly prefer any other affliction the world has to offer rather than completely forgetting someone you dedicated so many years of your life to. Grant has to take on that battle, as it’s told from his perspective and reflects on his past actions, which demonstrated that the relationship wasn’t always perfect.
The reflections of Grant show the inescapable truth that relationships will have moments of greatness and calamitous sadness because we’re humans after all. Grant has moments like remembering when they decided that they would get married and knowing that he would never want to be away from her ever again. But he also remembers the time when he had one of his weaker moments of life like having an affair with another woman. Every moment flows through his head because his life has forever changed. He can no longer go home to see his wife.
Away From Her displays some incredible work by writer/director Sarah Polley. She adapted this story from a book and brought it to life beautifully on the screen. Polley captures the desperate longing Grant has for Fiona when they’re apart, as he adjusts to his new reality. Life will never be the same and the long retirement he envisioned for them together got cut short. Polley brings such a light touch with the camera work because of the sensitivity of the material, and her script eloquently displays the pain that comes with this circumstance.
The acting duo of Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent also worked very well together in establishing a relationship filled with love and what was once a promising future. Christie really captured those moments of forgetfulness and recollection that made losing her memory so incredibly painful. Pinsent shows the culmination of guilt and selfishness that comes with the circumstance. One lives life and works hard to reach the moment in life where you can do more with your spouse. It makes me think of all of the times where I worked longer hours rather than spending more time with my spouse assuming that it’s all for a future when we’ll have more time. That time is never guaranteed. The selfishness occurs with the new reality of Fiona completely forgetting him and finding comfort with others in the nursing home. The selfish act of forcing someone to remember a past that has left their mind.
This film really gets to me and allows me to have thoughts of a future I hope never exists. Grant ultimately needs to learn what happiness for Fiona means and how it differs from his idea now that her memory no longer holds up. It makes for a difficult viewing experience but one that contains so much love and affection. It may be my worst nightmare but Away From Her beautifully captures it.