Last night, I watched a film I've been looking forward to...and dreading...for some time. "Away from Her", starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent as Fiona and Grant Anderson, a 60-ish couple who lead an idyllic life in a lovely cottage in beautiful, snow covered Canada.
Christie has had a long, illustrious career, but I remember her as the radiant beauty in her early movies, Dr. Zhivago, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and Shampoo.
Here, she has aged a lot. No filters on these cameras, though it is apparent that she is intelligent, sophisticated, and still beautiful. But something's wrong. The movie dives right into it. She is somehow inappropriate. She will enter a conversation, and say something that really makes no sense. She puts the frying pan away in the freezer. And she is aware of the changes in herself.
Her husband watches in horror as she slips away, but holds on. One day, she goes cross-country skiing, then abandons her skis and wanders off. When he finally finds her, she doesn't know who he is.
It comes and goes, but she insists that they discuss that she might require institutionalization. He resists, but as she sees the changes in herself, starts to say "it's time"
And so she goes to Meadowlake. (An aside here. If there are really institutions like this, then I'm ready to move in. The quarters were elegant, the staff were patient and genial. Even the food looked good.)
Eventually, she enters the residence home. Their rule is that there can be no visitors for the first 30 days. An eternity for him, but she settles in well, and when he visits, she is playing cards with a group of other patients.
As he returns on a daily basis, it is obvious that her new life is her life now, and the man at whose side she is constantly, Aubrey, is her new man. She is polite with her Grant, but it is clear that he has no context for her any more. She sees him, quizically, as a new suitor, perhaps. She says to him "you're persistent", but has no idea who he is.
It's poignant as hell. The eyes have it in this movie. Christies show alarm at first, at her realization that she is changing, slipping, and then get blanker and voider as the movie progresses. Pinsent's in turn, become more and more pained and lost. Adding to his torment is the fact that twenty years before, he had had an affair, that ended when he left the university and they moved into the cottage they lived in at the beginning of the movie. One of the last things she remembered clearly.
Even the soundtrack was good. I dissolved into tears when Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" started to play. Young's "Helpless" performed by k.d. lang was equally moving.
This superb movie breaks one of my rules. I try to select movies that are funny and entertaining (ok, not always, but I try). This one isn't funny. It isn't entertaining.
But I wouldn't have missed it.