|Away from Her
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Married for almost 50 years, Grant's (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona's (Julie Christie) commitment to each other appears unwavering. Their daily life is filled with tenderness and humor; yet this serenity is broken by Fiona's increasingly evident memory loss - and her restrained references to a past betrayal. For a while, the couple is able to casually dismiss these unwelcome changes. But when neither Fiona nor her husband can deny any longer that she is being consumed by Alzheimer's disease, the couple is forced to wrenchingly redefine the limits of their love and loyalty - and face the complex, inevitable transition from lovers to strangers.
"I'm going," says a lovely, understated Julie Christie, in a heart-wrenching moment of recognition that Alzheimer's is slowly descending on her. "But I'm not gone." Away from Her, the directorial debut of young Canadian actress Sarah Polley, allows two themes--the growth of love, and the limits of the mind--to intertwine, uplift, fall, and rise again, throughout its arc. What should be relentlessly depressing is instead a film of great courage, humor, defiance--and a quality that Christie's character, Fiona, calls out in another defining moment: grace.
Away from Her chronicles a love story between Fiona and her longtime husband, Grant, played with bearlike stolidity by Gordon Pinsett, as the couple struggle with the onset and acceleration of Fiona's Alzheimer's disease. Moments of lucidity and wry observation pepper Fiona's decline, and Christie gives an unforgettable performance as a woman who is both ordinary and singular to those whom she's touched. The story is set against a frigid Canadian winter, with fields of snow as a background underscoring the bleakness of Fiona's diagnosis; yet life is constant and surprising, in the call of a meadowlark or the resurrected memory of a skunk lily. A scene of Fiona out for her daily cross-country ski shows Christie's gorgeous, sensual face in closeup against the snow, framed by a babushka, reminding the viewer of a similar scene of the decades-younger Christie in Dr. Zhivago. It's impossible not to be touched by the gifts of this extraordinary actress, through the life of this everywoman, whose very presence is shot through with grace. --A.T Hurley
- Christie and Dukakis are great; portrayal is unrealistic
Agreeing with a previous review, I found this film to be extremely unrealistic in terms of what the experience of Alzheimer's is like (the character of Fiona had dependable and insightful short-term memory, for the most part, though she was confused randomly); and what long-term care facilities are like. Maybe they are significantly different in Canada. As a gerontologist, I kept wanting to point out numerous inaccuracies. Not allowed to visit one's relative for the 1st 30 days of a stay? Big open spaces, with the long-term care facility staff having ample time to sit and chat with visitors? I don't think so. Then there is the issue of whose responsibility it is to help the residents keep fit. Why didn't staff have Fiona talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist? Many problems with this. HOWEVER, Julie Christie and Olympia Dukakis are wonderful to see in action. The husband was about as animated as the man Fiona befriends who cannot speak or do much of anything. But the female actors (including the nurse) were great....more info
- Pretty good
I work for a not-for profit organization that focuses on Alzheimer's disease and the caregiver. I rented this movie the other day when it finally came out on dvd. People have said it is a great movie, and one to watch. I watched the movie, and wouldn't go as far as great, but a good movie. He places her quickly into an assisted living facility, and cannot visit her for 30 days for her to get adjusted to the change. Thats not reality for the majority of the caregivers out there. They are not able to quickly place their loved one into a facility like the movie portrays. Yes, they do forgot their loved one they have been married to for years, and yes they do find another companion while they are residing at a facility. They live in the past, not the future. In the movie they really nailed that common problem, and the heartache they face. I just wished they showed more if he had care for her at home, like most caregivers do. But all in all it was a good movie, and very touching. ...more info
- Not for the sqeamish
This movie is not for anyone who does not want to face the realities of the horror of Alzheimer's disease. The acting is splendid. Julie Christie is superb, and Gordon Pinsent presents a chilling portrayal of the journey from complete denial to final and unspeakably sad acceptance. I thought I would make it through without crying. I was wrong. ...more info
- Hey! Academy! What About Pinsent?
It's exceptionally nice to see current world crisis' make an impact on film. Alzheimer's is a worldwide problem that cost billions of dollars in healthcare costs, rips at the fabric of families, and challenges us as a people to come up with ways of handling this mind-killer. And the best way to focus on this problem is to encapsulate it via one couple and show the havoc this disease wreaks. Thus we get AWAY FROM HER, actress Sarah Polley's first time in the director's chair. If it's any indication as to Mrs. Polley's future behind the camera, I'd say we're in for some great cinema from her.
I enjoyed this film for a couple of reasons. First is what I mentioned above about showing world issues. Second is the simplicity of the filming. There are no camera tricks, no lingering shots on falling leaves to indicate the end of one's life, and no easing into how difficult it is to let go of the mind (and eventually their body) of someone you've loved all your life. It's hard, cold and ultimately forces one to deal with situations they never thought possible. And finally I have to mention the acting.
Julie Christie is getting plenty of awards buzz because of her portrayal as Fiona Anderson, an aging woman who seems too young to be getting Alzheimer's. Although I enjoyed her acting immensely, it paled in comparison to Gordon Pinsent's awesome portrayal as Grant, her husband and man she leaves behind.
Pinsent played the perfect role as the equally lost husband, forced to put his wife in an institution designed for Alzheimer's patients and watch her slowly decay and drift from him. Pinsent goes through all of the emotions, from denial, anger and finally acceptance.
Olympia Dukakis plays Marian, a woman who's husband lives in the same institution as Fiona. As Fiona and Marian's husband become too close for comfort for both Grant and Marian, the two are forced together in hopes of connecting again with someone their own age who are experiencing the same horrific life-ending events of their spouses. Dukakis plays her role well and one scene in particular between her and Pinsent will probably make viewers both laugh and cry in the same moment.
My only complaint with Away From Her is that all of the major award groups (Oscars, Golden Globes, SAG, etc.) neglected to nominate Pinsent, while Julie Christie has been showered with them. It doesn't seem fair. The one's left behind -- after Alzheimer's -- pack the most emotional wallop when translating such devastation to film. And Pinsent pulled it off perfectly....more info
- I wanted to like this film, but...
...it just doesn't seem to be realistic or well written. The choppy sequencing does nothing to add to the story line, and, as another reviewer commented, none of the characters is very likeable. The portrayal of Alzheimer's Disease isn't very typical from my experience. Away From Her is one of those films that you begin watching, hoping a good story will develop...only to find out that you're still waiting for that story an hour into the movie. Overall, I would say this film would be a decent effort for a first-time filmmaker (which it is), but it's nothing near what an Oscar-nominated production should be. ...more info
- Horrible movie!
This is a horrible movie! Nobody under 60 could honestly say they enjoyed it! I could see how senior citizen could like it. I'd rather stare at the wall....more info
- "Away From Her" is brilliant!
"Away From Her" is brilliant! The cast led by Julie Christie (as Fiona) and Gordon Pinsent (as Grant), who both give Oscar-worthy performances, is brilliant! The directing by Sarah Polley (known for her role as Nicole in Atom Egoyan's "The Sweet Hereafter" (1997) is brilliant! The screenplay by Polley, based on the short story "The Bear Came Over The Mountain" by Alice Munro, is brilliant! The music by Jonathan Goldsmith is excellent! The cinematography by Luc Montpellier is excellent! The film editing by David Wharnsby (Polley's hubsand) is excellent! The casting by John Buchan (Polley's brother) is excellent! The production design by Kathleen Climie is excellent! The art direction by Benno Tutter is excellent! The costume design by Debra Hanson is excellent! This is an beautiful moving drama that hits you in the gut and doesn't let go. This is one of the best films of the year, so far....more info
- Don't Let This One Slip Away
I thought Sarah Polley was wonderful in "My Life Without Me," a splendid and unusual "small" movie. But when I learned she wrote the screenplay for "Away From Her," using an Alice Munro story as the foundation, and directed it - I was stunned. That's because the overriding quality of this movie's style is confidence, and Polley is young and a first-time director. There are no cheap devices to move things along, no mawkish manipulations of sentiment, AFH proceeds at a calm, deliberate pace that is absolutely perfect for its subject matter. Not much is known about Alzheimer's, but this much is clear, the erosion of memory and identity occurs on a timetable unique to the individual - and loved ones are powerless to intercede.
There is little plot to this picture. Fiona and Grant have been married for 40 years and still love one another. Fiona, Julie Christie, is swiftly moving along into dementia, the film begins with her cheerfully putting a frying plan into the freezer. Grant, who feels guilt for past philandering, wants desperately to help but also must deal with his emerging loneliness and grief. Fiona is far more prepared for this transition than Grant is, and takes to life in her specialized care facility almost too readily, developing a nurturing fixation for Aubrey, and forgetting Grant altogether. Is this partially revenge on her part? Is she throwing herself into dementia to pay Grant back for wrongs of the past? We don't know. Sarah Polley has the courage to tell the story, and leave the speculation to us. The story in itself has more than enough grit to carry the day.
Julie Christie, a great beauty and excellent actress, has never been better; this is an absolute showcase for her. There is wisdom and sadness in every breath, but more, acceptance and serenity that far outstrips mere happiness. Amazing work. Gordon Pinsent, as Grant, (a veteran of over 100 films), is deeply compelling, echoing the notion that illness of this sort is always harder on the loved ones than the patient who can slip into madness like a comforting bath. His interactions with Marian, (Aubrey's wife), played by Olympia Dukakis, and Nurse Kristy, Kristen Thomson, are spellbinding. Both women are compassionate but also very clear-eyed about reality. Grant learns much that he needs to learn from them, and we do too. Dukakis and Thomson are exceptionally good.
A relationship that has endured for 40 years, surviving infidelity and strains of every description, is a castle built on shared experience. Fiona is happy with the life she's led, but she also understands that she's leaving it for good. Grant is not so willing to watch that castle vanish, because without Fiona at his side to share the memories, who knows if they're real at all? An exemplary film made even stronger by its complete lack of sentimentality....more info
- Slow-moving, melancholy but good ...
This slow-paced and melancholy film traces the development of Alzheimer's on one woman and the seismic impact it has on her husband. The latter must eventually move his wife into a care facility, where she develops a strong attachment to another resident who seems even more worse off than her. Her husband's feelings of abandonment and jealousy give way to other impulses at the end. Julie Christie is magnificent in the central role of the woman with dementia.
The film may idealize life in a care facility. Many reviewers have commented on this. Hollywood's version of these "homes" is much more plush than the reality.
A good film about the power of love and relationships.
- Top Notch.
Brilliant acting. Beautiful locations. Julie Christie. Absolutely remarkable handling of the subject matter. And the saddest movie I think I've ever seen.
- Heart-breaking story wonderfully acted
You can read other reviews here for the plot synopsis or rave reviews of the performances. Some reviewers said the Alzheimer's effects didn't ring true enough or weren't "ugly" enough. Well, this isn't a documentary about the disease. And not all Alzheimer's sufferers exhibit the same symptoms on the same schedule. But the film is so wonderfully shot and directed and acted that it is sometimes hard to believe it comes from a novice director. Sarah Polley - yes, that little girl from "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" and later of "The Sweet Hereafter" - hits one out of the park.
I saw this film and "The Savages" in the same weekend. Helluva pair....more info
- Astounding Filmmaking Debut for Polley Spotlights a Luminous Christie in a Moving Study of Loss
At 28, Canadian actress Sarah Polley already has a prodigious career exploring characters with searing intelligence and psychological depth (Guinevere, The Sweet Hereafter). With the addition of director and writer to her resume, she offers a film most unexpected from someone so young since it reflects a keen perspective that recognizes the subtle changes in relationships that have endured for decades. The 2007 film is a compelling character-driven study of people well past sixty, all dealing with loss in various forms. The chief focus is on Grant, a retired English professor, and his wife Fiona, a handsome, childless couple married for 44 years and living an idyllic life in her parents' comfortable country home in rural Ontario. Suffering from increasing memory lapses, Fiona is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and recognizes the need to enter an assisted living facility, Meadowlake.
However, instead of focusing solely on the erosion of Fiona's memory, the unsentimental film looks at Grant's hard-pressed response to her debilitating condition, which is made all the more heartbreaking by Meadowlake's strict policy of not allowing him to visit Fiona during the first thirty days of her stay. Moreover, Fiona's memory appears to deteriorate in a most unpredictable manner as long dormant feelings of anger and resentment come to the surface over Grant's past indiscretions with his female students. This added emotional complexity makes it even more difficult for Grant to accept how Fiona, now completely robbed of her memories, has now bonded with Aubrey, a wheelchair-bound stroke victim whose wife Marian routinely leaves him there during the day. Another unexpected bonding occurs between Grant and Marian, who find themselves in similarly isolated situations.
Casting the luminous Julie Christie, still achingly beautiful at 65, as Fiona is Polley's masterstroke here. Christie - whose own illustrious career goes back to vivid images of her beauty and conviction in Darling, Far from the Madding Crowd, and most memorably, as the elusive Lara in Doctor Zhivago - gives so much unobtrusive dimension to her moving performance that I didn't realize how much I've missed seeing the full bloom of her talent work onscreen. It is also a tribute to the delicacy of her work that she does not overshadow veteran Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, who plays the mostly taciturn Grant with a subtle force that beckons his determined resistance to allow his wife to go gentle into that good night. Two other performances are compelling - Olympia Dukakis, who brings her trademark no-nonsense manner to Marian and then reveals her vulnerability in halting measure, and Kristen Thomson, who makes the smiling nurse Kristy a hard-earned voice of reason with an unexpected edge.
Michael Murphy has little to do as Aubrey except react mutely to the drama around him, and Wendy Crewson presents that familiar arm's-length crispness to Meadowlake's chief administrator. Fully capturing the snowy beauty of the area, especially in the cross-country skiing sequences, Luc Montpellier's cinematography is especially noteworthy here. Polley takes no easy avenues in telling the story she has adapted with precision from Alice Munro's powerfully affecting short story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" (from her excellent short story compilation, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage). Amazingly avoiding any confusion, she intriguingly adjusts the narrative by having characters go back and forth in time by hinging on the key turning points in the plot. As a whole, the film represents a truly masterful debut.
The 2007 DVD features a commentary track from Christie. With no one else with whom to converse, especially a conspicuously absent Polley, she sounds engaged in the first half-hour and then drifts in and out thereafter. She can be quite illuminating, but most of her comments are rather general in nature. It would have been nice if Polley could have probed further into some of the actress' observations. Polley, however, is present, on the commentary of five minor deleted scenes. There is also a celebrity-filled PSA for for the Alzheimer's Association....more info
- How Many of Us Would Settle for What We Eventually Get?
There is a line from YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU in which Grandpa asks:
"How many of us, when we're young, would settle for what we eventually get?"
What is extraordinary about Julie Christie's performance in this film is that Fiona settles for, and builds upon, what life deals her with a level of emotional discipline half inspiring, half maddening to her husband.
As the husband, Gordon Pinsent delivers a performance as racked with confusion, pain and nuance as any I have seen in movies for years. The complexity of his character is as enigmatic as Fiona's. Together, their love story provides hope for anyone who has stopped believing in love.
While this film sheds light on Fiona's descent into Alzheimer's disease, the film is neither about dementia nor is it about the hopelessness that often surrounds it. It is about the unexpected storms that overtake relationships and the ways in which two good people come to grips with disruption. For Alice Munro, whose story provides the basis of the screenplay, love is riddled with extraordinary pain, but it often conquers the odds.
Gorgeous nature cinematography is a character in the film. In the opening scene, as in occasional scenes after, the lovers cross-country ski across frozen landscapes suffused with an Alpine glow. They are at peace, saying few words but sharing what could never be spoken.
The scene in which Fiona, sensing her decline into dementia, becomes momentarily lost -- only to become a snow angel, suggests that even early dementia has its respite.
Thre were a number of minor issues that troubled me. Julie Christie's American/Canadian accent wasn't persuasive at the start. The example the director uses to objectify early dementia -- putting an object to be refrigerated into a cabinet -- is too common to be considered aberrant.
The nurse overseeing Fiona's unit delves a to deeply into the history of the couple, more than is believable. In turn, the nursing home admin is just a too evil to fit into the world we know. Many administrators are kind but impotent. Some rage against the undue influence of physicians over their nurses prevails.
Love scenes between unlikely bedfellows seem superfluous here, even though they can and do occur in "real life."
The final scene, which I will not disclose, is worth the trip. It summarizes, in brief, passionate strokes, what love is, and it does so in terms which are fallible but filled with character.
This very young, gifted director has delivered a poignnt film. It should be required viewing for anyone entering the helping professions, but also the betrothed.
In today's prurient terms, love is not what "they" think, nor it it what most of us think. The director has taken great pains to reveal truths in a manner both restrained and dignified.
AWAY FROM HER may be one the best films of the year. And Gordon Pinsent delivers an incredible performance -- which brought tears to my eyes more than once.
I'd grant five easy stars, even though the DVD release appears to have been redited from the theatrical version. The redited version, while marginally weaker, still comes close to perfection. ...more info
- Dance while you can
AWAY FROM HER is a film about an elderly couple that copes with Alzheimer's disease. Director Sarah Polley take's Alice Munro's short story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," and shows viewers the relationship between Fiona (Julie Christie) and Grant (Gordon Pinsent). Although the film is based on Munro's story, Polley adds more to the film's storyline, such as her focus on Grant's denial and slow acceptance of Fiona's deteriorating condition, and the long drawn out scenes at Meadowlake, the facility where Fiona decides to spend the rest of her life, which adds another dimension to story and the film.
Polley does a fine job in showing the intricacies that may occur in a marriage. The film takes place in Ontario, Canada, where a somewhat remote and snow-covered landscape captures the cold and emotionless feelings between Grant and Fiona. With the use of subtle home movie-like snapshots that capture the couple's past, the images show the irony of their lives; this is yet another film where the dialogue between the characters are short and ambiguous, but their facial expression fill-in the gaps where nothing is said as well as the film's soundtrack which complement the scenes.
The film is purely fiction but interesting. Grant shows his undying love for Fiona by making her as comfortable as possible - he comes to visit her everyday and reads her favorite books about Iceland; she does not remember being from Iceland. And when Grant finds out that Fiona befriends one of the residents at Meadowlake, Aubrey (Michael Murphy), he is somewhat resilient and disconcerted with her behavior, but eventually accepts it in order to make her happy. In turn, Grant has an unusual meeting/affair with Aubrey's wife, Marion (Olympia Dukakis).
Although a few of the scenes may not be realistic, AWAY FROM HER is an intriguing film that confronts the issue of Alzheimer's disease. It is moving and thought provoking, and it will definitely leave a lasting impression on the viewer.
- Winged Cognition
27 year old Sarah Polley made her directorial debut for a feature film with this movie. She had previously directed four short films, and a TV episode. Most of her past notoriety was for being a fine actress, having already appeared in more than 50 films since 1985. She was 9 years old when she did Terry Gilliam's ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1988). She spent several years as a child star on the television series ROAD TO AVONLEA. She appeared in THE SWEET HEREAFTER, GUINEVERE, and in THE CLAIM (2000). Recently I enjoyed her work with Sam Shepard in Wim Wender's DON'T COME KNOCKING (2005).
Polley's mother died when she was 11 years old. She considers actress Julie Christie to be her "surrogate mother". She worked with her twice before in NO SUCH THING (2000), and LIFE OF WORDS (2005). Originally Polley wanted to do a feature film about a 12 year old girl who finds herself being the star of a TV series, something she knows a little about -but there was no financial interest. Then she went with adapting a short story she liked by Alice Munro, THE BEAR CAME OVER THE MOUNTAIN. She wrote the screenplay with Julie Christie specifically in mind to play Fiona.
The film's plot revolves around a retired 60ish professor who lives a comfortable lifestyle with his gorgeous wife in a cabin his mother used to own. They are forced to face the harsh reality of the wife's impending cognitive decline secondary to Alzheimer's disease. While still coherent, Fiona (Julie Christie) convinces her husband, Grant (Gordon Pinsent) that it would be prudent to allow her to check herself into a special retirement home that specializes in Alzheimer's patients. Reluctantly, the husband agreed. The institution had a 30-day waiting period before the first family visit to allow new residents to "settle in". When Grant came for his first visit he found himself greeted with a blank stare. Fiona no longer seemed to recognize him. Worse still, she had become emotionally attached to another patient -Aubrey, a mute in a wheelchair.
How far can love be stretched before it lapses into heartache? Yet the textures of this plot are turgid, and darker forces yet are at work. As a popular professor, Grant had had several affairs in the past with nubile female student admirers. It appeared that Fiona forgave him and stayed with him into their retirement -but had she? I am told, and have read that realistically Alzheimer's does not progress so aggressively in just 30 days. So was Fiona punishing Grant? Was she still capable of such a callous and shrewd machination? Perhaps.
The dialogue crackles with Stoppard-like language -most of which it seems came directly out of the Munro manuscript. But young Sarah Polley did shed some important light on several salient issues, with the real tragedy of Alzheimer's being only the tip of the iceberg; things like the reality of physical love and sex amongst seniors, forgiveness -or lack of it after decades of matrimony, and the tedious toll of unresolved regrets. Julie Christie is still radiant, sexy, and beautiful in her 60's. She makes a lot out of Fiona -savoring a plum role. Gordon Pinsent, a Canadian veteran of more than 100 films, is wonderful as Grant, showering us with his compassion, his nobility, and the unsavory aspects of his complex personality. Olympia Dukakis was perky, pessimistic, and a chain smoker as Aubrey's wife Marion -becoming Grant's new "girlfriend" in an odd plot twist. Michael Murphy did a lot through his eyes at the mute Aubrey. Kristin Thomson stole every scene she appeared in as Nurse Kristy.
This thoughtful little film challenges our preconceived notions about older adults. Although it does not pack the dramatic punch of a film like IRIS (2000) with Judi Dench, it sweeps us onto fresh plateaus of consideration, and it creates a lot for us to ponder.
- 'But then that's life...isn't it'
AWAY FROM HER is a remarkable film from Canada for many reasons: the subject matter is tough but handled with sincerity and candor, the story from a short story by Alice Munro has been beautifully adapted for the screen by young and gifted director Sarah Polley, and the cast is homogeneously excellent - topped by shining Oscar worthy performances by Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. Polley has elected to share this tale of descent into Alzheimer's Disease and it effect on all manner of people by taking a subtle fragmentary approach to revealing the story and character development and in doing so she gives a feeling of how the world slowly loses its sense as the brain bumps around in deepening chaos.
The setting is Ontario, Canada where a couple has lived in a family home for the past twenty years of their 44-year marriage. Fiona (Julie Christie) remains a lovely woman but her memory is slipping and her husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) adjusts to her diminished ability to cope with compassion and love. Through flashbacks and little moments in the present, the encroaching effects of Alzheimer's Disease become more prominent and together the couple arrives at the decision that placement in Meadowlands, a home of Alzheimer's victims, is necessary. An obligatory separation of 30 days 'while patients settle in' is followed by Gordon's visiting Fiona, only to discover that she doesn't recognize him and has transferred her affection to a mute wheelchair-confined Aubrey (Michael Murphy). Trying to understand this change Gordon visits Aubrey's wife Marian (Olympia Dukakis) and despite the devotion each has for their spouses, they seek some sense of security and rekindled meaning to life by dating. 'It's a strange world' they continue to sigh, struggling to adapt to the life into which they have been thrown.
The cast is brilliant: not only does Julie Christy deliver a carefully studied, nuanced, informed portrayal of the Fiona at odds with diminishing brain activity and Gordon Pinsent matching her with a man torn by the throes of their misfortune, but the smaller roles by Dukakis and especially by Kristen Thomson as the worldly wise and kind nurse Kristy are so well defined they astonish us. The isolation of the story is captured in the snows of Ontario by cinematographer Luc Montpellier and Composer Jonathan Goldsmith has fashioned a musical score that relies inventively and subtly on Bach. Sarah Polley may be young in experience as a director and writer, but if the brilliant AWAY FROM HER is any indication of her talent, we are in for a series of significant films. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, September 07...more info
- The Long Good Bye
It is frequently a topic of discussion: who suffers more, the one afflicted with Alzheimer's or the spouse? `Away from Her,' (featuring Julie Christie in a marvelous performance as Alzheimer's patient, Fiona) sheds light on this struggle with heartbreaking candor. With a drama that unveils the progression of this insidious disease, Fiona, herself, can only describe saying, "I think I'm beginning to disappear," we get a revealing portrait of aging like no other in memory since `On Golden Pond'. Said as a matter of fact without a trace of self-pity, we get glimpses at times of her quiet terror. More of a focal point, her husband, Grant (Canadian actor Gordon Pinchot of 'Red Green' fame, here in a beautifully understated pensive performance) mirrors the torment as she forgets him as her husband when they both agree to committing her to Meadowlake, a facility handling Alzheimer's patients as a specialty. Using cross-country skiing and Icelandic books to elicit memory, Grant must face the clinical facts of his wife's closing synapses. The story zeroes on his dilemma as he tries to sort out his guilt over his past transgressions and discerning her continuing decline.
Deliberately slow moving, `Away from Her' reveals the degeneration well with Christie's excellent performance. Both husband and wife have flashbacks to earlier times, trying to live in a mindset when life was not as much of a struggle. As consolation Grant has a neighbor friend, Marianne (Olympia Dukakis) whose husband, Aubrey, is suffering from the same illness, making Mari a good resource. Some of the beautiful scenes with their cozy home in the snow and Grant's conversations with Meadowlake caretaker, (Kirsten Thomas) give some emotional depth to the story. Sarah Polley's screen adaptation and directing give the drama laudably understated realism which could have easily been overdone. All the performances shine, and Christie gives us a flashback of brilliance like O'Toole did earlier this year. (Based on a short story "The Bear Came over the Mountain".)...more info
- Stay Away
Scarcely better than a Hallmark film, Away From Her is written, shot and scored with a sentimentality that is no less tedious for being restrained. Julie Christie is convincingly vague, but Olympia Dukakis grates on the nerves and Gordon Pinsent carries impassive non-acting to the verge of paralysis....more info
- One of my "top 10" for 2007!
There is little likelihood that more than 9 movies will be as well made, or as moving a film experience in 2007 than "Away From Her". Thus, it already makes my top 10. Do whatever you have to do to find it and see it.
It is perhaps easier with short stories, and almost a virtual certainty if you retain the novelist as screenwriter. With the short story format, not chosen by many any more, going to the screen means the author can build on the story, feature nuances from the novel as scenes on the film, build character. No ripping apart and leaving on the film floor, you get to add to your own work.
Those are the choices made by first time Director Sarah Polley in her film from 2006 (released in the US in 2007) - "Away from Her" . Polley is a fine Canadian film actress noted for her independent choices (and political agenda) who had just finished filming "No Such Thing" with the sublime Julie Christie in a character role, in 2001. Polley was returning to North America from a Iceland, where the film was made, when she read "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" from one of Alice Munro's collections of short stories, 2001's "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories". She embarked on a path to make this film, doggedly determined to feature Christie in the lead role. And, she succeeded in a way that she must be immensely proud of.
This particular story of the impact of Alzheimer's on a family has always struck a chord with me. Munro is truly one of our great contemporary writers, and although I didn't favor this collection (my favorite Munro collections are "Runaway" and "Dance of the Happy Shades"), when I watched the film "The Notebook", a tale of coping with Alzheimer's in a marriage, I returned to this subliminal story and fell in love with it all over again. I didn't know about Polley's project to bring it to the screen until I read some scraps of a movie reviewer's piece last year, relishing the thought of Julie Christie returning to a leading actress role.
In "Away From Her", a couple (Christie as Fiona and Gordon Pinsent, for over 70 years a fine Canadian talent) confront the emotional as well as physical ravages of Alzheimer's, as they must part in order for her to obtain care in a nursing home. Filmed beautifully, Polley never lets the movie drag, as sad movies with determined endings often do. Polley evokes the strangeness of the situation in the facial expressions of the lovely Fiona. There is an invisible force of the disease present in almost every scene, in her manner, her face, her actions.
If the buzz surrounding "Away from Her" strengthens, if it moves from art houses to the big screen, as it did in my city, if American film-goers continue to try to find the best, not just the biggest films at their 20+ plexes, well "Away from Her" may result in a new career for Munro on the screen, an ability for Polley to command projects as a director and awards for Julie Christie's amazing performance. Indeed, the ensemble is truly all worth note.
Not to be outdone, and with award possibilities all around, the finest individual performance, it can be argued, is Gordon Pinsent's. He is remarkable as Grant, a role that is perfect for his skills. Devastated, heart broken, and still a hero, Pinsent is worth his weight in gold.
- Not Realistic
This movie made me angry, because it makes Alzheimer's look so much more benign than it is. Most caregivers are forced to keep their Alzheimer's victim at home for much longer. And where are the rages, the suspicion, the accusations, the delusions, the paranoia, the halluciations, the catastrophic reactions, the hitting and screaming that a caregiver must suffer through? Where is the diaper changing? Where are the sleepless nights? To enter a facility like Fiona does, one must be exceedingly wealthy, even in Canada, I imagine. And why end the movie on a up-beat note - where she is remembering momentarily? It gives the impression that things will get better when they only get worse. ...more info
- Beautiful, excellent and so amazingly sad
I was heartbroken 25 minutes into the movie. I was in tears by the hour. This was a very emotional and intimate film about a couple and what happens when one of them suffers from Alzheimers. Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent are exceptional in their characters. The cinematography profundly expresses the solitude encountered when one is "going", not yet "gone". Honest and very realistic, the movie is fantastically told. It is a beautiful film that everyone should see.
The Special Features has deleted scenes and audio commentary by Sarah Polley.
- The heartbreak of Alzheimer's
This is a heart tugging story that will bring tears to your eyes. Beautiful Julie Christie is the Alzheimer's victim, and her husband watches her deteriorate. Just as sadly, she watches herself deteriorate.
As she does, she insists on checking in to an Alzheimer's facility, leaving her husband, who is asking her to stay with him.
The turning point of the movie is the first month in the facility. They have a rule that there is to be no contact between patients and family for the first month of residence. When that month is over and the husband visits his beloved wife, she is already in love with another man and pays scant attention to her husband, who she either doesn't recognize as her husband, or wishes to revenge herself on for his infidelities to her during their marriage. Her motive is never explained. It appears that she's innocent of a vengeful motive, sweet as she is, but her extreme deterioration in that one month doesn't seem right.
I understood it to be that she is far more comfortable as the support giver for the other man than as the pathetic wife losing her mind. With this other poor man, she comforts him, takes care of him, mothers him, gives him affection that he is desperate for. She can have a positive self image and not feel so low. She can be useful. She can be a whole woman to this man, his mom, his beloved.
There even seems to be some question as to whether Julie has sex with this man. Probably not, I suppose, but that is left in the air. There is a sudden departure. The two of them are separated. He is pulled out of the facility. Later we hear that his wife couldn't afford to leave him there. That same wife is anxious to start an affair with Julie Christie's husband, and they consummate it.
Julie Christie's husband finds himself in the position of wanting to bring his rival back to be with his beloved wife, just to stem the tide of her apathy and deterioration. He drives the other man back to visit his beloved wife. Then the movie gets one final zinger in. Julie recognizes her husband, for the first time in ages, and hugs him. We realize that it is not going to last. She'll forget him soon enough. With the two of them hugging, it's hard not to cry....more info
- send condolence cards to the actors who were stuck with this script !!!
Away From Her tells the moving, sad story of a woman who is slipping slowly but surely into Alzheimer's disease. The plot essentially involves her relationships with her husband of forty-four years and her moving away from him once she becomes a permanent resident in a nursing facility for people with Alzheimer's. The plot moves along at a good pace but many of the lines are not well written; look for the ward nurse to get many of the best lines in the movie! The acting was convincing; but the portrayal of the nursing facility looks so unrealistically pure and nurturing it appears copied out of a fairy tale book.
First we meet an older married couple living in rural Canada: Grant and Fiona Anderson (Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie). Fiona is already slowly forgetting more and more; and when she begins wandering away and getting lost Fiona and Grant make the painful decision to move her, temporarily at least, into a nursing facility for persons with her disease. They try at times to deny that Fiona has Alzheimer's disease but their denial never works because the truth is becoming more and more painfully obvious.
Unfortunately for Grant, Fiona checks into a facility that actually has the brutal policy that new residents cannot have phone calls or any visitors for the first thirty days. Wow--sounds like a wonderful place. Who would trust them with that? In addition, when Grant does return, in just one month his wife has almost completely forgotten who he is--and she has fallen in love with another resident, Aubrey (Michael Murphy). This pains Grant and it brings up issues for Grant of past infidelities that may never be ironed out with his wife because she is now too ill to deal with it properly in a conversation.
Grant also meets Aubrey's wife Marion (Olympia Dukakis) and together they explore their feelings about their lives and how things "didn't work out."
The plot can go anywhere from here. Will Fiona stay in the nursing facility or will she come home and let it be a temporary experience after all? How will Grant and Marion manage a potentially difficult relationship--after all, their ill spouses have forgotten them because of the illness and in the nursing home their spouses are in love. What about Grant's desire to iron out past infidelities with his wife Fiona--will it truly be too late for them to work it out and smooth over bad feelings hidden over so many years? No plot spoilers here, folks--watch the movie and find out!
The DVD has a director's commentary and there are a few deleted scenes.
Too bad the extras didn't include the movie as it would have looked in real life. Another reviewer notes correctly that nursing facilities mean ringing the bell constantly for 40 minutes to get an overburdened attendant to change your parent's diaper. The nursing home is pictured with such purity you'd think they had to be joking--and it's a bad joke at that. None of the care facilities are ever that clean and they don't have staff who look so perfectly composed at all times. I know; I've been there with a very sick mother.
Overall, Away From Her features a fine performance from actors who are burdened with an average script. The lines are best when Grant and Fiona interact; and the ward nurse gets some great lines, too. Watch this when you don't have kids around and there's nothing else to watch. If there IS something better to watch, leave this one for another day--and send condolence cards to the actors who got stuck with this script!
Twenty-seven year old Sarah Polley has written and directed "Away from Her," based on a short story by Canadian author Alice Munro. This deeply moving film traces the final stages of a marriage that has lasted for over four decades. Fiona and Grant Andersson live in a beautiful home in Canada, and on the surface they seem like a perfect couple. However, Fiona has begun to develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. As time passes, she wanders off, misplaces things, and has memory lapses that increase in severity. Fiona is aware of her condition and she and her husband reluctantly decide that she should move into Meadowbrook, an upscale facility that caters to patients suffering from varying degrees of dementia. Grant, who in his youth was a philanderer, is guilt-ridden and devastated; he fears that he is about to lose his beloved wife forever. However, Fiona courageously accepts the inevitable and urges her husband to do the same.
Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent is amazing as an aging spouse who stands by helplessly while his wife slowly disappears from his life. He is consumed with jealously when Fiona forms a close bond in Meadowbrook with a fellow resident, Aubrey, played without words by the expressive veteran actor, Michael Murphy. In a moment of lucidity, Fiona explains to Grant that Aubrey doesn't confuse her by expecting her to remember things. Julie Christie should be an Oscar contender for her indelible performance as a woman whose beauty and understanding has deepened with age, but who unfortunately, is experiencing frightening and irrevocable mental deterioration. Her luminous blue eyes and marvelous smile light up Christie's magnificent face. Sadly, as her memory fades and she loses her reason for living, Fiona becomes increasingly despondent and lost. The scenes between Christie and Pinsent are master classes in understated acting. Polley wisely steps back and gives her characters the space they need to fully inhabit their roles.
Olympia Dukakis is perfect as Marian, Aubrey's wife and sole companion. She is a cynical but realistic woman who cannot afford to keep her husband in Meadowbrook indefinitely. When a bewildered Grant visits Marian to discuss Fiona's relationship with Aubrey, Marian dismisses him at first, but she eventually decides that she must reach out to someone or she will wither away emotionally. In a key supporting role, Kristen Thomson portrays a perky and compassionate nurse whose advice and support help Grant adjust to the unsettling changes in his life. Wendy Crewson is a condescending and officious bureaucrat who runs Meadowbrook with a plastered-on smile and a kindergarten teacher's voice. Cinematographer Luc Montpelier makes the most of the beautiful Ontario landscape and his close-ups lend an air of intimacy to every scene. "Away from Her" will bring tears to the eyes of anyone who has lost a loved one to Alzheimer's. It is a restrained and touching film about imperfect people trying their best to confront tragedy with grace and dignity.
- Grace under pressure--but very unrealistic care facility
When Fiona Anderson (Christie) discovers she has Alzheimer's Disease, she opts to go to a nursing home. Her husband, Grant (Pinsent) objects, but she's firm and believes it is for the best. It takes a lot of grace to step away from a 44 year marriage and into a home on your own. Christie's depiction of her parting with her husband is heart-wrenching.
The couple has never been apart for 44 years, but the facility requires that they have no contact for the first 30 days. This is to allow Fiona to settle in. When Grant returns, he's greeted by a stranger who has formed an attachment to another male inmate Aubrey (Michael Murphy).
The story focuses mainly on the older couple, but we see occasional flashbacks of younger times. And Grant rightfully questions whether Fiona has forgotten him after the 30 day separation or if she's punishing him for his infidelities as a young college professor.
"Away From Her" brings into focus issues of eldercare and elder sexuality that many of us might shy away from. The story is treated with grace and compassion and while it could be depressing, is uplifting in many ways.
22-year-old Sarah Polley did an astounding job bringing this cast and story together. She's already a force to be reckoned with and has been since her film debut at 9.
The depiction of the care facility Fiona's committed to is lovely and I wish with all my heart it was so. There are many compassionate and loving people in the eldercare business, but there are also many under-staffed, underpaid and overworked employees as well whose decisions are made by 'bean counters' and staff convenience rather than the welfare of the patient. One solid example of this in the movie is the 30-day required separation for new patients to 'settle in' to the facility. How cruel is that to entrust your beloved family member to a new place without being able to see them and check on their welfare? ...more info
- TRAGIC STORY OF DEMENTIA AND UNCONDITIONAL LOVE!
'Away From Her' is a film that really tore my heart out, due to having gone through dealing with Dementia first hand in my family. Besides some fine performances, this film offers inspiration and humor in all the right places. It's about as enjoyable as a film like this can be and the love story is truly special showing some of the most unselfish acts I've ever seen! This is worth seeing, but keep a few tissues handy. :-)...more info
- "I should be so lucky"
It's my feeling that Sarah Polley's Away From Her, starring Julie Christie, based on a short story by Alice Munro, can be viewed as a triumph for Polley fans, for Christie fans, or for Munro fans, based on which one you prefer to be a fan of. It's the story of Fiona Andersen (Christie) and her husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) facing Fiona's unexpectedly young case of alzheimer's, but that description makes it sound like a made-for-tv "brave sick woman" movie. Away From Her, to me, a fan of all three of those women, a Munro triumph most of all, proof that such an adaptation is possible and interesting. Munro gains momentum from scenes that quietly sneak in their details and revel in how unconsciously human they are. An early scene in which Fiona forgets how to pronounce the word "wine" is heartbreaking, but it's also much more than that - it's an indication of her unraveling social decorum. Fiona as a character is much like her hair - large, specifically coiffed, and somewhere on the line of lovely and ridiculous. Grant observes, as Fiona becomes worse and makes a surprising connection with another patient in her treatment facility, that Fiona may not be sick at all, that it may simply be the latest expression of who she is. That detail and thought is pure Munro, and, having not read "The Bear Came Over The Mountain," on which Away From Her is based, I love that the details feel pure to the story - a later, more debilitated Fiona has a simple comment about her house, which she may or may not recognize anymore, and it too is a moment of purity and disquieting ambiguity, and it happens simply by letting Fiona walk around a little. That is where Polley and Christie - and, just as much, Pinsent - have their equal triumphs. This is a wise story about human behavior and long-term love, nailed home by a beautiful set of lead performances and sensitive directions. Its kept from perfection, I think, from being so small scale, and being a little long about it, but it is, however it got there, dead on in its portrayal of a personality slowly draining away....more info
- which end for you?
An opportunity to ponder your mortality and your response. Well acted. Most would turn away. Julie's eyes are remarkable. ...more info
- Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent in a touching story about Alzheimers
I do not remember if the word "Alzheimers" is even mentioned in "Away from Her," although its utterance is not necessary to understand what is happening with Fiona (Julie Christie). When she put the frying pan in the freezer, where it is dutifully retrieved by her husband, Grant (Gordon Pinsent), we know the situation, even without seeing the PSA for fighting the dastardly diseases that plays at the start of this DVD. Fiona has taken to wandering away, unable to find her way back home, and Grant cannot watch her every minute. Since that is the sort of attention she needs as the disease progresses (captured in a painful moment at a dinner party where Fiona struggles to remember what is in the bottle she holds in her hand), Grant must find a home in which to place his wife of nearly 50 years. He chooses Meadowlake.
When Grant brings Fiona to Meadowlake the first of two flaws that affect my response to "Away from Her" moves the story forward. Meadowlake has a policy that new residents cannot have neither visitors nor phone calls during the first 30-days of their stay. Now, I fully understand why such a policy makes sense if you are dealing with somebody sent to prison or checking into a rehab clinic, but at a home for the elderly that pays attention to people suffering from Alzheimer's? It would be hard to come up with something crueler. Your mind is starting to betray you and you move away from the home you have known for decades into a strange new place, and you cannot see your family and friends? No wonder when Grant arrives a month later his beloved wife thinks that he is just a new resident of the home.
This "policy" is ultimately a plot contrivance to arrive at just this situation, with the added insult to injury that Fiona has apparently transferred her affections to Aubrey (Michael Murphy), another one of the residents at Meadowlake. Aubrey is mute and has trouble getting around, but Fiona is constantly attentive to his every need. Clearly taking care of him makes her happy, but we cannot help but see the irony that Aubrey no more acknowledges Fiona that she acknowledges Grant on what are becoming daily visits. For Grant the situation is unacceptable, but with Fiona's condition there does not seem to be anything that he can do about it, and that is what serves as the film's ultimate conflict.
This 2006 Canadian film is based on Alice Munro's short story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." It is faithfully adapted to the screen by Sarah Polley in the actress' first feature film as director. Polley has assembled a solid cast to tell this tale. Christie is still radiant, and any attempt to make her look haggard can never fully succeed once you see her eyes. Pinsent brings a sense of restraint to both his pain and his resolve in dealing with this cruel twist of fate that life has dealt him (one of my favorite scenes takes place between Grant and a teenager forced to come visit somebody at the home by her family). In contrast, Olympia Dukakis as Marian brings a harsh dose of reality to both Grant and the story. Despite the stupid policy that creates the film's tragic situation, Meadowlake is a fine place for Fiona to be, personified by Kristy (Kristen Thomson), one of those angels that you pray would be taking care of your loved one.
The performances perfectly match the delicate situation, but for me there is a second flaw in this film in what happens between Grant and Marian. That is because it takes away some of the grace from the film's moving final scene and changes Grant's motivation from what I would want it to be into something much less noble. At one point I was thinking that it would be better if Marian did not have the specific relationship she has to another character in this story, but without that reason Grant would never have cause to seek her out (certainly he would not meet her by happenstance). Even with these flaws this is a touching film, so clearly these are not fatal flaws, but they still prevent me from rounding up on "Away from Her," even with the stellar performances by the principles....more info
- a movie about alzheimers
my mother suffers from end stages of alzheimers and i always try to watch every movie possible for this desease. this was my 2nd best movie that i have seen. the very best movie is "THE NOTEBOOK". i would highly recommend this movie to any that has been effected with this desease. it is very emotional and julie christie gave an awarding winning performance. it is a must see movie.this movie is about the struggles of putting a loved one in a facility and the stuggles that occur. ...more info
- Away from Her: hard lessons in letting go.
"Don't worry, I'm just losing my mind."
Inspired by an Alice Munro short story, actress-writer-director Sarah Polley's Away from Her (2007) is a deeply-moving study of the effects of Alzheimer's disease. Retired professor Grant Anderson (Gordon Pinsent) and his wife Fiona (still-radiant Julie Christie) have been married for 44 years when Fiona first realizes she is gradually losing her memory. "I think I may be beginning to disappear," she matter of factly tells her dinner guests. Although Fiona loses most of her short-term memory before moving into an assisted-living facility, she initially retains her long-term memory, including all the pain of her relationship with Grant and his history of infidelities. "I'm going, but I'm not gone," she reassures Grant as he drives her to the rest home. Then, in just thirty days, she loses her memory of him altogether. "Does she even know who I am," Grant wonders aloud. While in the rest home, Fiona develops an "attachment" to a wheelchair-bound patient, Aubrey (Michael Murphy), who has lost his speech. "He doesn't confuse me," Fiona explains. As Fiona's mental condition deteriorates, Grant struggles with grief, guilt, loss, and hard lessons in letting go. He also confronts his own mortality alone. The soundtrack includes Neil Young songs. Polley avoids cheap Hallmark sentimentality in her film, focusing instead on her well-drawn characters and the changing dynamics of their relationship. The result is both powerful and poetic.
G. Merritt...more info
- remarkable performance
Probably not everyone's choice, but I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Julie Christies performance is remarkable. You live through the emotions and devastation of Alzheimers. Highly recommended for people that enjoy this type of film....more info
- Away From Her
It followed Alice Munro's short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" very well except for the ending. I think the movie's ending was not as plausable as Munro's short story. However, my wife and I watched the movie and were moved by it. It is thoughtfully done. And Julie Christy did not disappoint us....more info
- Away from Her - flawed but moving
I agree with those who say that the Alzheimer's facility in the movie is too good to be true. Even if such a luxurious place were to exist, the cost would be far above a retired professor's means, and from the looks of the cottage Fiona and Grant lived in, they did not have other sources of wealth. Also, for seemingly artistic effect (enabling a Christmas dinner scene with Aubrey and Fiona), the movie stretches out the period in which Aubrey was in the facility to over a year, which contradicts the reason given in both the short story and the movie for his stay and his wife's economic situation- that it was a short term placement so she could go on a trip and she could not afford to keep him there longer. The inconsistency grates, but it is not a fatal flaw.
I disagree with many of those who criticize the depiction of Alzheimer's. I have had substantial experience with the condition as family member, friend, and volunteer. Alzheimer's does not manifest itself in a single way. In the early stages, victims are aware of and frightened by what is happening to them, read about the disease, and often decide or agree to move into a care home with little or no prompting, as Fiona did.
Many patients do not manifest extreme, angry outbursts or many of the other symptoms reviewers felt Fiona should have exhibited. And I can tell you from experience, rapid declines or shocking behavioral or physical changes can, indeed, occur virtually overnight. Being separated from her husband for thirty days (as draconian and probably unreal as that policy is) in itself could trigger a major change. When my father was unable to make his daily visits to my mother, her condition radically deteriorated. A friend and I both characterized our mothers' Alzheimer's progressions as lengthy plateau periods punctuated by sudden drops followed by new, "lower" plateaus. While both mothers expressed frustration with their conditions by occasionally throwing their pills to the ground, pushing away food, or cursing inappropriately, they never raged and like Fiona, they remained "ladies." When Fiona enters the facility, she is far from the Depends-and-spoon feeding stage that she will eventually devolve to, as the movie hints, after she moves to the second floor. I think the movie realistically depicts a particular person's specific early and early-middle stages of Alzheimer's.
I give the movie four stars, rather than five, because of the flaws mentioned in the first paragraph. I think the acting - particularly Julie Christie's - was superb. The vacant or fearful look in her eyes and her lapses and attempts at covering humor were spot-on. The questions raised about love, the meaning of fidelity, and dealing with mind-robbing disease were well-wrought and worth pondering....more info
- Loved it
If you loved Notebook you will love this movie, a rainy or snowy afternoon with a cup of tea and a cookie, and this movie is a great way to relax and enjoy the day. It has sad moments but thats life right? ...more info