Away from Her
In her adaptation of Alice Munro's short story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," Canadian actress, political activist and first-time director Sarah Polley bridges generations and experience in her striking film about aging, adultery and love. As both of my grandmothers have relocated to assisted care facilities in only the past six months—one with a husband still at home—I found Away From Her to be a particularly remarkable piece that tackles personal tragedy in a charitable and broad fashion, exploring the complexity of old age infirmity coupled with equally convoluted infidelity.
Award-winning actors Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent give poignant performances as a happily retired couple suddenly faced with the reality of early-onset Alzheimer’s. As Fiona and husband Grant make the excruciating decision to move her into an assisted living facility after a nearly inseparable forty-four years, they are also faced with shadows from their past. As if the transition were not already disruptive, after the first month in the center—a forced period of seclusion to help Fiona "settle in"—Grant returns to find his wife emotionally attached to another man.
In addition to navigating the difficulties of memory loss, Away From Her explores extramarital amour and the active choice to ultimately rebuild a marriage. After an affair early in their relationship, Grant has been forgiven by providing Fiona the new life he promised as penance. But faced with a resurgence of their martial ghosts, Grant ponders the poetic justice of Fiona’s new love with the care center’s down-to-earth head nurse Kristy as his confidante. He points out, partially to assuage his own guilt, “We didn’t have such a bad life,” and Kristy, without missing a beat, responds that it always seems to be the men who feel that way.
At twenty-eight, Polley already has a keen director's eye, shown through choice of dense colors and natural light that often floods the screen. A truly gorgeous film starring beautiful people, Polley respectfully reminds us that just because we get older doesn't mean we're no longer sexually, emotionally complex beings.