Away from Her

Away from Her

Film review by: Witney Seibold

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            Grant and Fiona Anderson live an idyllic marriage in the mountains. They cross-country ski together, laugh together, cook one another’s meals, and trade stories from the books they read. One evening, while helping with the dishes, Fiona puts the frying pan away in the freezer. Despite the innocence of this gesture, it’s crushingly obvious to both of them that Fiona has contract Alzheimer’s disease. Grant feels he can take care of her himself, especially after seeing the cold, antiseptic universe of the local nursing home.  Fiona, however, seems to know that assisted living is the best route for the gentle and tragic saunter away into forgetful madness.

 

            Grant reluctantly places her in the home. He is encouraged by the home’s staff not to visit for a month. Fiona is beginning to live more and more in the past, and his presence would only confuse her. He reluctantly agrees with this practice. Weh he does return a month later, Fiona treats him merely cordially. She also seems to have transferred the warm and loving affection she once had for her husband to a mute, wheelchair-bound inmate. Grant, having once had an affair, begins to suspect that Fiona is doing this as a long-awaited emotional revenge, although it’s more likely that Fiona is just slipping further and further away.

 

            “Away from Her” is a heart-wrenching and tragic story about having to prematurely let go of a loved one, made all the more painful by the fact that they’re still alive, and all the more difficult when they “come back” for a few choice moments. It is an unromantic look at Alzheimer’s disease, but a deeply romantic look at the depth of love two people can have for each the, even in their autumn years. The film was written and directed by actress Sarah Polley (from a short story by Alice Munro), and, like most features directed by long-time actors, is mostly about the performances and close emotional journeys of a few select actors. This is no bad thing as Grant was played by a grizzled Gordon Pinsent, who seems barely able to contain his heartbreak, and Fiona is played by the always-wonderful Julie Christie. The two leads are able to give us reams of dialogue with a single painful wince, and Polley allows them to explore the depth of the characters without slogging us down with incident or melodrama.

 

            “Away from Her” is also close-to-the-heart and irrepressibly heartfelt. It almost plays like theatre, or one of Ingmar Bergman’s later films, when the warmth of a theater community began to outweigh the painful chamber dramas in his mind. When it comes time for Grant to perhaps start spending time with another woman (Olympia Dukakis), and to allow Fiona to obsess, perhaps romantically, over her new man (Andrew Moodie), the contrivance is miles in the past, and the struggle is right in our faces.

             “Away from Her” is one of the best films of 2007.

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Published in: on January 19, 2008 at 2:37 am  Leave a Comment  

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