Away from Her (2006)

Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent in Away from Her

Polley's Unforgettable Movie

First up "Away from Her" is one of those rare movies which restore your faith in those who make movies. This isn't some masterpiece, it isn't a classic, it's not mainstream but it's not arty but it is a touching real movie which tackles the difficult subject of Alzheimer's disease without prettying it up with some false romanticism. It's because of this, the real look at how heartbreaking and difficult it is for a husband to watch the woman he loves become someone different, who doesn't remember him is what makes "Away from Her" a very special movie. It allows those who have never lost a loved one to Alzheimer's to realise that it is those closest to the sufferer who suffer the most as they basically have to let go of wishing for a miracle, try and move on but still remain true to the person they are losing.

For over forty years Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona Anderson (Julie Christie - Finding Neverland) have been married and for the most they have been happy years except for Grant's indiscretion when working as a college lecturer. But now as Fiona is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease they face the difficulty of being separated as Fiona agrees to go into Meadow lake, a long term care home. And for Grant it hits him hard not only dealing with his own feelings of guilt and loneliness but watching the woman he has loved forget him and strike up a close relationship with another patient.

Gordon Pinsent and Kristen Thomson in Away from Her

Now I am going to get my one criticism of "Away from Her" out of the way with before I start telling you all that is good about it. My criticism is that it is disjointed, the events we watch are not in order and it is confusing as you try and piece together where each episode fits into the timeline of Grant losing Fiona to Alzheimer's disease. Maybe this was the intention of director Sarah Polley, to allows us to experience a bit of confusion in the same way that Fiona does and if that is the case it is a good idea. But for me it is so disjointed that it can be difficult to follow especially at the start.

But that is my one criticism as otherwise "Away from Her" is very good and takes us on this journey mainly from the perspective of Grant as he watches Fiona change in front of his eyes. It takes us from those first initial lapses in memory, his denial that there is something wrong with his wife, the guilt of having to put her into a care home and then his own confusion as he witnesses her forget who he is whilst striking up a close bond with another resident. For those who have never experienced a close friend or loved one slowly lose more of their memory to Alzheimer's disease will certainly have their eyes opened as to how much it effects those who have to watch, have to understand and be supportive to the point of actually letting go. And as such it also tackles the subject of those who have to watch trying to move on with their lives whilst still respecting that person who they have loved even when they no longer remember who they are.

Even for those who have experienced a loved one's slow decline due to Alzheimer's disease will be able to appreciate the brilliant dramatization of these issues. And you have to give writer and director Sarah Polley a lot of credit for not copping out and adding some fake romanticism to make the drama more palatable. In fact Polley does something clever and introduces a romantic element, but it is an element of support and provides relief which is again very real rather than romantic nonsense. And whilst Polley also chooses to set all of this in a beautiful location, and the snow covered vistas are stunning, they never once become the focus of the story.

A huge reason why "Away from Her" comes together is the great casting of Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie because first and foremost they are believable as couple who after 40 years of marriage are still in love with each other. But it is also because they appear to understand their characters especially Pinsent who goes through a wide range of emotions as Grant, from denial to confusion whilst always patiently understanding, caring deeply for Fiona despite his own personal needs as he watches his wife disappear in front of him. That isn't to say Christie's performance isn't as good as she never overplays the effects of Alzheimer's disease, allowing it to feel very natural when she doesn't recognize Grant or gets lost whilst out on her own. And whilst the supporting cast all do a good job you have to say that Kristen Thomson who plays carer Kristy creates such a wonderfully kind, caring and understanding character that you just warm to her immediately.

What this all boils down to is that "Away from Her" is a very good movie, one which tackles a very difficult subject in a very real and honest way without ever becoming morbid. It does a great job of showing that when it comes to Alzheimer's disease it is those closest to the sufferer who end up suffering as much as they are forced to watch and accept the loss of a loved one.