Released 2006. Director: Sarah Polley
YOU WAKE UP ONE MORNING AND YOUR WIFE OF OVER 40 YEARS has no idea who you are. She doesn’t remember anything about your lives together. She doesn’t know your name and she’s never going to remember that you’re her husband. She’s here, but not really here.
Alzheimer’s Disease may not be everyone’s idea for a movie, but don’t let that stop you. Away From Her is an immaculately and delicately told story with quiet grace and understanding.
Having been told that she’s developing Alzheimer’s, Fiona decides to check herself into a nursing home rather than degenerating slowly in front of her husband. To help residents settle in and adjust to their new environment, the home forbids family visit for the first 30 days. At the end of this period, Fiona’s husband Grant goes to see her, flowers in hand. Fiona, who appears to be contented and normal, no longer knows Grant as her husband of four decades.
For actress Sarah Polley, who was only 28 years old when she tackled this challenging theme in her first attempt as a director, the achievement is all the more sweeter and notable because of her age. Polley’s maturity and skills are evident in her remarkably serene and unsentimental approach. She maintains a gentle hold on the unfolding of the story with an unhurried rhythm, almost as if letting the characters find the time to locate their memories and live their lives while they’re unravelling.
Instead of painting a downbeat and gloomy picture, Polley floods the scenes with bright winter lights. In a way, everything appears clear and sharp, yet it’s also like a fade to white. Simplicity is obviously Polley’s guiding principle, one that is immensely effective and persuasive. Acting is top-notch. Julie Christie gives the year’s best performance of any actresses. Warm, piercing, even as her character’s memory fades, no pity, only dignity. As her despairing husband, Gordon Pinsent’s patience and melancholy gives the movie its emotional anchor.
The mentally debilitating condition is a journey nobody chooses, but Away From Her shows how bittersweet it can be when we allow ourselves the strength to adapt to a new reality.