A quiet and subtle drama about old age and adapting to new dynamics of a decades-long marriage, backed by a superb performance by Julie Christie.
Dir. Sarah Polley
2006 | Canada | Drama | 110 mins | 1.85:1 | English
PG (passed clean) for some strong language
Cast: Julie Christie, Michael Murphy, Gordon Pinsent
Plot: A man coping with the institutionalization of his wife because of Alzheimer’s disease faces an epiphany when she transfers her affections to another man, Aubrey, a wheelchair-bound mute who also is a patient at the nursing home.
Awards: Nom. for 2 Oscars – Best Leading Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay; Official Selection (Toronto & Sundance)
International Sales: HanWay Films
Subject Matter: Moderate – old age, marriage, relationships
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 10 Feb 2008
Away From Her, an adaptation of Alice Munro’s short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”, and written for the screen by director Sarah Polley, works so well because of two reasons – its story and the evergreen Julie Christie.
The film is simply presented, opting for straightforward photography rather than fanciful, creative camerawork. There’s a feeling of a vastly spacious ambience that envelops the film, from the snow-covered towns to the heartening and lively people of a nursing home that welcomes and takes care of the mentally-incapable.
While Christie’s performance is extraordinary, it’s her sincerity that scores a hit with viewers. She is the perfect embodiment of Fiona, a character struck by an unfortunate disease – the Alzheimer’s – who finds it is best for herself to stay in a nursing home, against her husband’s wishes.
As time passes, Fiona’s affection for another man in the same nursing home starts to grow. Being unaware of her own behavior, in addition to her husband’s inability to adapt to Fiona’s worsening condition, their once sparkling relationship deteriorates to almost a point of no return.
“I think I may be beginning to disappear.”
There’s no doubt that Christie’s the star, but Polley correctly chooses to focus more on Gordon Pinsent, who plays Fiona’s husband excellently, and is ultimately the film’s central figure.
Pinsent’s character, Grant, seeks solace in a caregiver, and Marian (who is, gasp!, the wife of the man Fiona likes). These cross-marriage relationships make for interesting viewing, but it reflects the frustration of an emotionally-trapped soul trying to come to terms with his lonely, waning years.
Away From Her is a quiet, subtle motion picture; a pleasant distraction from the bombast of loud Hollywood blockbusters. It reminds of Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages which also deals with a similar theme – old age and dementia, and how it affects people’s lives.
Away From Her is the better film, a more serious alternative to The Savages, which is part drama, part comedy. We know that getting old sucks, but it’s nearly impossible to deny dear old Julie Christie an Oscar win come late February.