Away From Her

Because I’ve been engaged with other kinds of writing, I’ve fallen out of the habit of reviewing most, or at one time all, of the movies I see in the theater. But after catching Sarah Polley’s compelling directorial debut, Away From Her (IMDB), this weekend, I continue to find myself haunted by its depiction of a married couple dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. The film opens with Grant (Gordon Pinsent) describing Fiona’s (Julie Christie) playful marriage proposal 44 years earlier, an anecdote that frames their marital contentment, their comfort together after more than four decades, making the film, which is based on an Alice Munro short story, as much about marriage and the shared memories and histories produced by a long relationship as it is about the loss of self associated with the disease.

Interestingly, when Fiona’s memory lapses begin–putting a frying pan in the freezer, forgetting the word wine–she makes the decision to be placed in a long-term care facility herself, a place called Meadowbrook, seen initially through Grant’s eyes as he watches visitors, often desperately, trying to connect with the patients. The facility is also relentlessly bright and efficient, the natural lights and bright colors standing in contrast to the more muted tones of the cabin where Grant and Fiona live. And as Dan Callahan’s House Next Door review suggests, Fiona’s transformation is similarly communicated through fashion, her stylish ski coats and sweaters replaced, after she enters Meadowbrook, by a brightly striped sweater that Grant insists Fiona would “never” wear. As Fiona settles in Meadowbrook, we begin to learn that the image of marital contentment that frames the film covers over a slightly more complicated history, in which Grant was often unfaithful to his wife, an issue that emerges as Grant watches Fiona develop a friendship with Aubrey (Michael Murphy) another patient in her facility, and that lead to Grant cultivating an initially uneasy friendship with Aubrey’s wife, Marian (Olympia Dukakis).

Away From Her is a small, subtle film, and while I’m unfamiliar with Munro’s story, Polley has demonstrated an impressive talent for storytelling, using a temporally fragmented narration to depict Fiona’s decline and Grant’s attempts to come to terms with losing her and with his own mistakes earlier in their marriage (by the way there’s a great interview with Polley in the print version of the most recent issue of Filmmaker Magazine).


  1. Josephine Cameron Said,

    June 19, 2007 @ 7:52 am

    Hey, thanks for the comment on my blog, and for checking out my music! I’m really glad you liked it. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Polley’s version of “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”…it won’t be here for a few weeks, unfortunately, but that’s part of the cost of living in Maine! 🙂 Have a great day!

  2. The Chutry Experiment » Tuesday Media Miscellany Said,

    June 19, 2007 @ 2:55 pm

    […] Came over the Mountain,” which provided the basis for Sarah Polley’s amazing new film, Away From Her.  And if you haven’t heard Cameron’s music, you should check it […]

  3. Chuck Said,

    June 19, 2007 @ 3:28 pm

    Josephine, I’ve had a similar experience living in Fayetteville. Most art movies get here a few weeks after they play in the big cities. That being said, I really like the art house theater here in town, so it’s hard to complain.

  4. The Chutry Experiment » 21 Media Moments in 2007 Said,

    December 22, 2007 @ 11:04 am

    […] Christie’s performance as someone dealing with Alzheimer’s disease in Away From Her also stuck with me in a major way. Here’s hoping that Sarah Polley chooses to direct more […]

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