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Away from Her
No better dramatic introduction to the challenges of Alzheimer's.
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
"It is the disease that robs the mind of the victim and breaks the hearts of the family."
Jerome, H. Stone, National Alzheimer's Disease Assn.
Forget 66 year old Julie Christie's Breck Hair and young woman figure; ignore her still luminous blue eyes and creamy, so-what creased face. The real star here is Alzheimer's Disease, the thief slowly stealing the heart from a 44 year marriage. Christie's Fiona must go to a nursing home before her disease "progresses." Gordon Pinsent's former college professor Grant reluctantly lets her go.
It's not exactly One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in there, but romance does evolve, such as Fiona's with Michael Murphy's Aubrey (art nouveau's Beardsley I'd guess as the allusion). What's a husband to do? In the best Bergman tradition, young director/actress Sarah Polley moves the plot and camera slowly, peppering it with nuanced twists that satisfy our dramatic interests but leave plenty of room for the meaning-of-life philosophies.
Polley and her source, Alice Munro, succeed with the thesis that adults need to be given freedom to be who they are at the place they are in their lives. Life for Fiona begins again with tending to Aubrey while Grant stews thinking she may be paying him back for his affairs with students. Maybe so, but Christie's acting is so good (Oscar worthy) that she clearly seems to be in the thrall of Alzheimer's yet lucid enough to remember those indiscretions. Such is the mercurial nature of the disease that long-term memory may linger while short term is a victim.
K. D. Lang singing Neil Young's Helpless is an inspired touch for the denouement of this beautiful romance. I don't think there could be a better dramatic introduction to the challenges of Alzheimer's disease than Away From Her.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com