Away From Her

Most people know Sarah Polley as an actress, and a damn good one at that. For the most part, Polley (The Secret Life of Words, Don't Come Knocking) has made a conscious decision to stay within the realm of independent, thought-provoking films. Away From Her, based on the short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain by Alice Munro, is her first directorial effort, and it is just as strong as her other efforts in front of the screen. Away From Her is a devastating, honest film about love and Alzheimer's, and what happens when a couple married for over forty years becomes affected by the disease. Even more impressive is the fact that Polley is twenty-eight years old.

Alzheimer's disease can wreak havoc with the families of those that suffer from it. Another recent film, Memories of Tomorrow, shows how it affects the relationship of a long-married couple. Away From Her essentially takes the camera and shifts it away from both spouses, focusing primarily on the husband. Grant Anderson (Gordon Pinsent, The Good Shepherd, Nothing) is a retired professor who lives with his wife Fiona (Julie Christie, The Secret Life of Words, Finding Neverland). Their life is idyllic - they spend all their time together reading and cross-country skiing. When both begin noticing the symptoms of Alzheimer's, they make the reluctant decision to place Fiona in a care institution.

One of the policies of said institution is for its new patients to have no contact with friends or relatives for thirty days, so that they have an easier time settling in. Grant visits after this time only to find that Fiona has no memory of him. Worse, she and another patient, Aubrey (Michael Murphy, X-Men: The Last Stand, Silver City). This realization is devastating to him. The nurses tell him that things like this come and go, and he should not take anything personally, but Grant is still heartbroken. He has to sit and watch his wife act affectionately towards another man, knowing that she doesn't remember him. Grant truly loves his wife, and dutifully visits often. He brings her books to read, and tries to gently engage her memory.

Because of this, Away From Her is both extremely depressing and uplifting. It is sad seeing Fiona's condition worsen before the eyes of her husband, and horrible seeing how her relationship with Aubrey deepens. What is sublimely beautiful about the movie is the unwavering love that Grant has for Fiona, and his dogged pursuit of anything that will help her. Polley's style is very subtle and restrained. There are not many "loud" moments in the movie, but that does not mean that there is a lack of emotion. Away From Her is a quiet movie that focuses on the people, their reactions to the situation they are in, and their attempts to deal with it. The camera often focuses on Pinsent's face, and the viewer watches as his heart slowly breaks. Pinsent's performance is powerful in its intensity. And remember, this is only Polley's first film...

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 50 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some strong language.

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