Thursday, 8 November 2018

Movie Review: Away From Her (2006)


A drama about dealing with life-changing dementia, Away From Her explores the emotional pain and unexpected adjustments triggered by loss of mental capacity.

In rural Ontario, Grant Anderson (Gordon Pinsent) pays an unexpected visit to a woman called Marian (Olympia Dukakis). In flashback, his story is revealed.

Grant and his wife Fiona (Julie Christie) are a retired couple married for more than forty years, and dealing with the reality of her worsening Alzheimer's disease. He is still struggling with feelings of guilt over his long-ago episode of infidelity. Together they reluctantly make the difficult decision to admit Fiona into the Meadowlake Care home, run by administrator Madeleine Montpellier (Wendy Crewson) and head nurse Kristy (Kristen Thomson).

Fiona quickly adapts to life at the care home, and to Grant's deep chagrin strikes up a close friendship with another resident, the fragile and non-talkative Aubrey (Michael Murphy). Fiona starts to regard Grant's visits as intrusions, and when her condition worsens, he has to find a way to keep her happy and maintain his own balance.

An adaptation of an Alice Munro short story adapted and directed by Sarah Polley, Away From Her is an unblinking view of the trauma caused by mental attrition. Infused with the chilly cold of rural Ontario and the subdued tones of hardy characters used to dealing with harsh elements, the film tackles the slow memory fade that steals precious memories and destroys lifelong bonds.

While it would have been easy for the film to wallow in tragedy, after setting the context Polley chooses a different track: Away From Her sparkles with pragmatism. As much as Grant and Fiona are suffering through the heartache of her disappearing ability to remember life, both deal with the situation in a matter-of-fact manner driven by their circumstance.

As dictated by her decaying brain, once Fiona settles at the care home the here and now of Aubrey's companionship becomes much more important than the fading comfort provided by the mostly forgotten past represented by Grant. And for him, finding solutions that preserve Fiona's comfort and his sanity become a primary preoccupation, superseding unhelpful feelings of guilt and abandonment. The film rises well above moping and evolves into a story of resilient coping, the self-preservation of the human spirit rising to the fore.

Both Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent are excellent. Christie is haunting as a woman aware of her decline, her moments of lucidity becoming more rare as the merciless sinkholes in her mind expand. Pinsent is a victim, support and problem solver rolled into one, his anger and frustration palpable beneath a sturdy exterior.

Away From Her is an imposed rather than chosen condition, and both Grant and Fiona will respond with unexpected yet ultimately natural actions.






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