catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 18 :: 2007.10.05 — 2007.10.19


Loving enough

Which is harder, to be cared for or to do the caretaking? Away From Her, an intimate film about a marriage coping with Alzheimer’s, may spark impassioned discussion or a render a dazed silence from long-time couples who see it.

Do you—will you—love me enough to care for me if I lose my mind? Or I, you? How does anyone create that kind of love? Could we love the other enough to opt for a care facility while we still know what’s going on? That is what Fiona, played by Julie Christie (in all her wrinkled beauty) chooses to do.

Directed by 28-year old Sarah Polley, Away From Her is sober yet winsome, and very absorbing. The opening scene hints at Fiona’s impending drift as she veers slightly from her husband’s side as they ski across a frozen lake. Viewed from above, this small shift leads to a growing divergence between their paths.

We see Fiona struck dumb while standing to refill her guests’ glasses, peering at a bottle, trying to sound out a word—“w-ween?”—but not perceiving the meaning of the letters w-i-n-e. Her next ski outing, a solo journey, cements the need for a change when she becomes lost.

She is resolute in moving to the pleasant Meadowlake, but her husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) is not ready. You feel that he would follow her through the woods—where he found her skis and poles—and track her down to the bridge in town every day if he had to.

But he suffers the move, and the required 30-day visitor-free transition period. Flowers in hand, Grant finally comes to visit, only to find Fiona in a deep attachment with Aubrey, who turns out to be someone else’s husband. She is unaware of Grant’s identity and he spends the rest of his visit, flowers in his lap, watching the woman he loves play cards beside another man.

His visits continue in observation and hope, yet when Aubrey returns home to his wife (Olympia Dukakis), Grant tracks her down with a remarkable request. Could she please allow Aubrey to return to Meadowlake, as his wife is despondent and her condition is worsening.

Alzheimer’s has not touched my family or any I know, but that will surely change in the coming years. I will remember Away From Her whenever the subject comes up, for offering an indelible expression of the relationship between sacrifice and love.

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