Monday, October 01, 2007


This week’s movie:


I first remember seeing Julie Christie in François Truffaut’s excellent film, Fahrenheit 451. It came out about the same time as Doctor Zhivago, where most people remember her as Lara, but I didn’t see that film until much later. I’ll always remember her most in that dual role as the bureaucrat’s dutiful wife, and as the idealistic revolutionary. I was young and impressionable, and at twelve years old, I absolutely fell in love with her. And if, in the intervening years, I’ve forgotten why - I’ve only to watch this week’s movie, AWAY FROM HER, to be reminded.

If you’ve heard anything about this film, you’ll be tempted to say, “Isn’t that the movie where Julie Christie gets Alzheimer’s?” Well, yes, you’d be right - but that’s like saying, “Star Wars? Didn’t that have a spaceship in it?” These kind of statements are inadequate to describe what the movie is about. So what is it about? Julie Christie comes down with Alzheimer’s, and worse yet, she quite aware of what’s going down.

Let me try to do a little better. I have an aunt that was recently widowed. She and my uncle were married for almost 60 years. Like any marriage, it had its ups and downs, but they were both totally devoted to each other. They were inseparable. One never went anywhere without the other. They were two halves of one whole. It was a storybook relationship - and I’m sure that someday, someone will write a story about it. They were happy! But when he died, half of her was gone. She didn’t know what to do with herself - she didn’t know HOW to be alone. So now she’s wasting away, her mind retreating into herself and waiting to die. That’s how she deals with her loss. Everybody deals with loss a little differently.

In AWAY FROM HER, Julie Christie comes down with Alzheimer’s. It’s not sudden and she has time to make certain decisions while she’s still herself. Her husband of 40+ years is the one who has to deal with the loss. This is a remarkable film, and it’s remarkable for one reason. The treatment of the actions of this couple is true and realistic. It’s not dumbed down for a mass audience. It’s not a manipulative tear-jerker, and yet it’s powerfully emotion-evoking. That, and it’s adult.

Okay, two things - make this remarkable. Its realistic depiction of a tragic situation, and that it is adult. By that I mean that the main characters are aging. While the majority of movies today feature young gorgeous beautiful actors mainly because they’re great to look at - and if you don’t have a great story or great acting - then at least something ought to be great, this story doesn’t need that because it has a great story with great acting (although Julie Christie is still gorgeous - old - but gorgeous). So for those two reasons, this film is remarkable. That, and the fact that this is a directorial debut from Sarah Polley.

Okay, so that would be three things. Young Canadian actress, Sarah Polley, is best known for playing interesting roles in movies you’ve probably never heard of, such as Last Night, eXistenZ, The Sweet Hereafter, The Weight of Water, and The Secret Life of Words. Every actor wants to direct but most find they’re not very good at it. This is quite an impressive achievement for such a young actress. The real achievement though, is that someone that young can understand what it’s like to be old. Should you care about this? Not necessarily - but it’ll be interesting to see what she does next.

To recap, the three remarkable things about this film are: It’s realistic, it’s adult, and it’s Sarah Polley’s directorial debut. Oh – and also the performances. Okay, four! Four things make this a remarkable film. The performances by each of the main characters are all Oscar-worthy. Not because they’re dramatic – not because they’re NOT dramatic, but because they’re not unnecessarily dramatic. It’s so easy, given the subject matter to turn this into the “Hallmark Channel Alzheimer’s Show”, where a tragedy occurs, everybody cries, everybody cries some more, and then everybody cries one more time, then due to the overwhelming courage of the main character, everyone perseveres - lights come up - not a dry eye in the house. That is the definition of one-dimensional story-telling. AWAY FROM HER peels back layer after layer, as the movie progresses, you discover more and more details about the marriage, and how that affects the way both of the main character deal with the affliction. There may be some tears shed along the way, no doubt, but all eyes should be dry by the end.

Here is a list of the top ten things I hope to forget if I ever come down with Alzheimer’s.

  1. The 5th grade. Yes, I have my reasons - I don’t want to get into it.
  2. The 6th grade. Ditto.
  3. How to drive. If I never have to drive again, I wouldn’t complain.
  4. Everybody’s birthday. I’m just not good at shopping, and I need a good excuse.
  5. I would like to forget that I saw Memento, and Pleasantville, and some of my other favorite movies. That way, I can enjoy watching them again for the first time.
  6. I would like to forget that I saw Supernova and Battlefield Earth and some other of my least favorite movies - except that I would probably end up watching them again.
  7. The guitar chords to all the songs that I hate but people are always wanting me to play. The problem with that however, is that I may also forget that I hate them and have to learn them all over again.
  8. I forgot what I was going to write for #8.
  9. To pay taxes - and have a good excuse for it.
  10. Fahgettaboutit!

Get AWAY FROM HER (you cad!)

and Enjoy.

view trailer


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