REVIEW: Away From Her [2007]

“Something delicious in oblivion”

Canadian actress Sarah Polley has crafted a tale about love in the midst of great adversity by adapting a short story into her new film Away From Her. I have been a fan of hers, acting-wise, for a few years now since Go, and was pleasantly surprised to see that she had written and directed a film garnering a lot of good buzz. What she tells here is a story about an older couple grappling with the wife’s slow deterioration from Alzheimer’s. Although there is little action and few characters, everything portrayed onscreen more than makes up for the lack of scale with emotion. This is a heartbreaking story of enduring love and sacrifice in relationships, while also showing how an indiscretion, forgiven years ago, can sometimes never fade.

The true worth of this movie is in the performances by Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. Sure the supporting roles are very good as well—credit to Kristen Thomson, who’s bubbly nurse was a bit too much until a scene with Pinsent later reveals her home life, and Michael Murphy, almost unrecognizable as the mute, incapacitated eventual friend of Christie—but the stars really shine. During the process of Christie’s slow descent into emptiness, she never falters from character and her confusion and helplessness is etched into her facial expressions. The way in which her responses go from clarity to canned phrases and back again show her trying to grasp for what little memory she has. While her performance is very well done, it is Pinsent who is the true heart and soul of the picture. He must deal with his wife’s breakdown and subsequent quarantining for 30 days, in effect all but erasing himself from her mind. Watching his never-ending attempts to break through to her again is tough to sit through, but he never gives up and never puts himself before her. His love is real and he is willing to fight through the abuse and the blank stares to never leave her side.

What could have been a simple story of the affliction soon becomes more. We learn early on that Pinsent had some extramarital affairs during his teaching years in the 70s, and while his counterparts left their wives, he stuck by his and she ultimately forgave him. Because of the nature of the disease, Christie’s short-term memory is the first to go and she soon remembers only what her husband did to her, at some times thinking he left her all those years ago. Watching Pinsent experience these moments is heart-wrenchingly difficult, he knows he is there with her, but can’t say anything, as she won’t know how to deal with the confusion. She soon falls in love with a man at the nursing home because he is someone she sees at all times and never confuses her with having to try and remember the past. I think the best scene of the film occurs as a result, while Pinsent visits for Christmas. He sits alone, watching his wife and her friend enjoy themselves, when a girl comes over to get away from her depressing family. When he explains why he isn’t sitting with his wife, you can see the love he has for her coming out in full. The girl’s response saying that she wishes she could be that lucky is a wonderful validation for him and what he is doing.

Throughout the film we are shown numerous instances between the couple, sometimes good and sometimes bad. While at times this seems a tad long and monotonous, you do need to sit through it to truly grasp the finale. As the nurse says, once you get to the second floor, there will be days of no recognition and others of her asking when they can go back home. During the course of the tale, Christie is always so close to clarity that she hides from it in order to not disorient herself too much. Only when Pinsent finally gives into his feelings and decides that her friend inside may make her happier than himself does he have the first real moment of clarity since she has been away. She always loved him for not leaving her behind when he could have, but instead giving up his job to be with her unconditionally. He never wanted to be away from her, he knew that the day she proposed to him forty years prior. Sometimes you need to be willing to let go in order to realize that no matter what happens you will always be together.

Away From Her 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
[1] Julie Christie (“Fiona”, left) and Gordon Pinsent (“Grant,” right) star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s drama Away From Her DVD.
[2] Gordon Pinsent (“Grant,” left) and Kristen Thompson (“Kristy,” right) star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s drama Away From Her DVD.

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