Away from Her
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that although this affecting drama probably isn't too much for young teens in terms of sex, language, and violence, it does touch on adult issues such as infidelity, tackling these topics with a sense of refinement and sensitivity. Watching how Alzheimer's progresses can also be wrenching, and teens may need some guidance to process it all.
What's the story?
AWAY FROM HER stars Julie Christie as Fiona, a woman who looks vital, regal, yet who is succumbing to Alzheimers. The progressive dementia rips apart what appears to be a storybook marriage to Grant (Gordon Pinsent, in a finely nuanced turn), a former college professor. Married for forty-four years (and childless), they spend their days cooking, taking walks, skiing, and reading to each other in their log cabin by a lake, hardly needing anyone else's company. Until, that is, Fiona starts putting freshly washed pans away in the refrigerator. And can no longer remember how to pronounce the word "wine" or what it means, even as she holds the bottle in her hand. Eventually, the last glorious 20 years they've spent together tucked away in their own private idyll are peeled away, with only the ache of older memories -- "All those sandals, Grant," Fiona says, wincing at his infidelities, "all those pretty girls" -- to keep her company. When Fiona decides to check into an assisted-living facility, it feels like, for a change, she's deserting Grant. And when she rekindles an attachment with Aubrey (Michael Murphy), a man she used to know, it feels like the ultimate abandonment.
Is it any good?
Away From Her (based on Alice Munro's short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain") is a beautiful movie. It's not just about the wreckage of a disease: It's also a spot-on meditation on marriage -- the sins forgiven but not forgotten and the transformative power of enduring love. Director Sarah Polley is as subtle and adept at directing -- this is her first feature -- as she is at acting. She knows when to linger and when to pull away, when to be loud and, more often, when to stay quiet. (Director Atom Egoyan, who produced this, must have taught her well. Some elements echo the minimalism he showed in The Sweet Hereafter, in which Polley starred.)
Polley has a sense of humor, too -- as in the way she paints the center's administrator, who obnoxiously starts nearly every sentence of her tour with "As you can see." And Olympia Dukakis gives substance to what could have been a flimsy role as Aubrey's wife. But this excellent drama is Christie's all the way. As Fiona, she is both frail and formidable, as rich and complicated as love is in real life.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about how the movie depicts Alzheimer's. Does it seem like a realistic look at the illness and how it devastates families? What about it is surprising (if anything)? And what is the movie's message about aging? Does it portray getting older in the same way that most other movies and TV shows do? How does marriage come across in the movie?