"It's just like a series of circuit-breakers in a large house, flipping off one by one."
Alzheimer's comes to claim a lifelong romance in Away From Her, a film that takes us straight to the heart of a plummeting world too often obscured by talk of caregiving and caretaking. Sarah Polley's awakening directorial debut casts Julie Christie as a woman shoring her life against the tide of oblivion, and Gordon Pinsent as her loyal and lonely subject.
They've been together for more than forty years, decades in which their happiness has sometimes been tested, their love sometimes tortured. "You could have driven away and forsaken me," she tells him. He does not, cannot, for she has the "spark of life." He never wants to be away from her, and yet her whole life is going, inexorably dripping into the vast black pool of forgetting: "The thing is, half the time I wander around looking for something...but I cant remember what it is. Once the idea is gone, everything is gone. I think I may be beginning to disappear."
Whole scenes and conversations are orchestrated around Christie's electric presence, who towers over the film even as she performs her gradual and upsetting absence. Pinsent is the best kind of actor for his role: he commands our attention and our affection quietly. We join him in witnessing the gradual disintegration of their former and future lives.
The movie will invite comparisons to One True Thing, where Meryl Streep confronts her death and in so doing confronts her life. Away From Her is similarly being oiled for Oscar season mostly on the Best Actress ticket, but is lit by so much love in so many corners it deserves multiple nods: Jonathan Goldsmith's score is somewhere between sublimity and mystery; Pinsent is a jewel; Polley fuses laughter and tears in a script second to none.
A miracle of eternal wisdom and courageous sorrow.