An aged wife tells her husband,
“You could have just driven away without a care in the world for me, and forsaken me”
With a pause pregnant with unsaid emotions he whispers,
“Not a chance.”
These two lines which appear so unambiguously banal in content at first glance there lies the ultimate test and triumph of an alliance that is forged over a lifetime.
The alliance we call ‘marriage’.
‘Away From Her’ is a film which captivates with its sheer force of simplicity, all the while delineating the intricate details of a complex human story with the natural grace of life and nature. Adopted from the work named ‘The Bear Came over the Mountain’ by Alice Munro, the film revolves around the trials and tribulations of an elderly couple trying to come to terms with the curse of Alzheimer’s disease and its attendant complications. As Fiona (Julie Christie) starts to lose her memory she is shifted to a ‘retirement facility’ for ailing people, much to the despair of her husband, Grant (Gordon Pinsent), who is emotionally disturbed and much upset at the separation. The immaculate depiction of the traumatic phases that an Alzheimer’s victim undergoes poses a thousand pointed questions to the viewer. The very conception of ‘memory’, as we know it, is shaken to its foundations as one grapples to identify and later appreciate how singularly beautiful it might be to discover a fresh appeal within the confines of familiarity without our mental retention of the past and the memorized. How fascinatingly juvenile and invigorating it might have been to get lost in the woods that one was so accustomed to. How thrilling it might have been to start acquaintance with the person one loved for a lifetime and thereby script a story of rediscovery and revision.
The film lends a compellingly thoughtful perspective in this regard and thereby makes the journey for the viewer that much more enriching than mere enjoyable.
As the film moves on, the consequences of a depleting memory surface to test Grant while Fiona finds comfort and company in Aubrey, another ailing inmate in the facility, oblivious of her past affiliations and bindings. A period of insecurity and possessiveness consume him, which later transpires into a better understanding of the infinite complexities of human relationships. While Grant laments the look of unfamiliarity in Fiona’s eyes a tactile web of human emotions spins into motion. Without being opinionated in any way the film expresses its endorsement of human values and through a marvelous language of images convey the fear of isolation innate to humans. A work of passion by the director, Sarah Polly, ‘Away From Her’ will surely go down as one of the finest films on human relationships and connubial love I have ever seen.
Julie Christie has portrayed the central character to such precise perfection that she moves her audience to tears without being tearful herself. Her glazed blue eyes are so resplendent with an unearthy innocence that while watching the film one almost feels as helpless and cornered as her husband. Her infirmity is so obvious, yet so ostentatiously underplayed that nothing short of an Oscar would do justice to her moving rendition of an otherwise difficult character.
Gordon Pinsent is a figure of strength with his stoic acceptance of a tragic reality. Yet, he displays brilliance in scenes where he arrests the outpour of his spasmodic reactions in the face of piercing predicaments. One of the best performances of the previous year he might as well get a well deserved nomination for the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ category at the Oscars. I actually back Pinsent to bag the award for holding his own in the spate of an astounding piece of acting being delivered opposite to him, which if not belittling to say the least was more than intimidating in terms of pressure to perform his own brief.
An exceedingly well-made film which asks existentially relevant questions even to an average enthusiast, I will remember ‘Away From Her’ as one of the most beautiful films I ever watched. A film which promotes love and commitment and delivers the message of lasting togetherness that marriage as an institution bestows, the following conversation from it will remain imprinted in my mind forever (Alzheimer’s forbidding):
[ while leaving for her asylum Fiona asks Grant at their doorstep]
Fiona: How do I look ?
Grant: Just like always. Just as you always looked.
Fiona: And how does that look ?
Grant: Direct and vague. Sweet and ironic.
photo: google images