Away From Her - A Film Review

Essay by jmarascoUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, November 2008

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The film “Away From Her”, is a screenplay adaptation from the short story “Bear came over the Mountain” by Alice Munro. The story focuses around the relationship of Fiona and Grant, an Ontario couple married over 40 years. The couple is forced to face that fact that Fiona’s “forgetfulness” is actually Alzheimer’s disease. After Fiona wanders away and is found after being lost, she realizes that she can no longer live at home. Fiona has too much self-pride for herself, and too much pity for Grant, to subject him to her deteriorating mind. She makes the decision on her own to check into a comfortable nearby nursing home. The nursing home they choose has a “no-visitors” policy for the first thirty days of the patient’s stay, to let them adjust to their new settings. When Grant visits Fiona after the first month of her staying in the nursing home, he finds out that not only has she forgotten him, but Fiona has transferred her feelings to another man.

The other man is Aubrey, a wheelchair bound mute patient at the nursing home. His wife Marian later moves Aubrey out of the home. As the distance between Grant and Fiona increases, Grant must sacrifice his own happiness for Fiona. This moving story, was told from the perspective of the director and screenplay writer, Sarah Polley. I believe that she used the film’s focus of Alzheimer, humour and intimacy between the characters to show an honest relationship of a forty-year marriage.

Objectively the film is the struggle of relationship with a women suffering from Alzheimer’s. I think that the director, Sarah Polley used role of Alzheimer’s in the film as a metaphor for how memory plays out in a long relationship: what we choose to remember what we choose to forget. At a point in the film, where Grant drove Fiona, we get a glimmer that their marriage wasn’t all like it seemed to be. Fiona mentions a younger woman, a student of Grant’s who somehow had an impact of their marriage. Although Fiona doesn’t come out right and say it, the film implies that Grant may have cheated or at least was tempted to cheat on her. After that incident, he swore he would do anything for her. Grant retired from the university and they moved out to the cottage on the lake, where the two have lived ever since. It is interesting to see that memory is selective, and that through the whole disease she still seems to remember the things she wishes she would forget. Polley explores the dynamics of the survival of a long marriage, managing to do so without having to rely on flashbacks of a romantic past. The only flashback we see in the film is a screen shot of Fiona as a young woman smiling, no dialogue, just the image. I think the image isn’t mean to represents a romantic past of their younger years, but an ideal of health that Grant wishes he had back. He is attempting to cope with a new Fiona he doesn’t recognize, nor who recognizes him. I think the film shows Grant discovering himself after being married to somebody for so long, realizing what unconditional love meant at the end of their marriage. In this case Grant reaches out to Marian, Aubrey’s wife to convince her that Aubrey come to visit Fiona.

Sarah Polley also uses subtle humour in her film. The humour in film provided relief to the tension of the film and also gave insight to the bigger perspective of life itself. The film focus is surrounding a debilitating disease and its impact on others, so it is important for comedic relief. For example, Fiona jokes with Grant about not remembering where he was going, later adding in a “just kidding”. Although the film’s humour is not very substantial, I think it represents the idea that “life goes on”. I think that this is also characterized through the relationship that develops between Grant and Marian. Marian is a pretty witty older lady, and the dynamic of her and Grant is hilarious. Marian is straight to the point, strong spoken, while Grant is more passive in his speaking. I think that this dynamic may have been similar to of Grant’s and Fiona’s relationship, although Fiona appears to be more “classy” than Marian. Fiona used humour subtly after learning of her condition. Even her appointment with the doctor, she was using humour in some form to answer the doctor’s question. I think the use of humour is a coping mechanism for Fiona, but also shows her strength of character. Fiona’s acceptance of her diagnosis is shown through her swift actions and her positive behaviour such as humour, proves her strength of character. I think that this adds to the proof of her real courage and strength, which helps to give evidence to her and Grant’s marriage being able to last over forty years.

The last item that I believe the director wanted to address was the idea of a sexual relationship among older adults. In a few parts of the movie, there are intimate encounters between Fiona and Grant, and Grant and Marian. Many films, for example “the Notebook”, and others that deal with people in their 60s and 70s, give off the idea that they are very sweet and sexless. Although it is somewhat seem as “taboo” that elderly don’t engage in sexual activity, I think that Polley used this as part of a way to show the true honesty of the relationship. We are not given some cookie cutter idea of the marriage. Polley used the opportunity of showcasing intimacy among older people, as a sign that there is a reason why people are together for so long. There aren’t just meaningful conversations; there is actual chemistry still there between two people after all those years. There is truth to the relationship, whether it be their apparent intimacy level, or the trials and tribulations they have gone through over the years.

After watching the film, I could see why it received so many awards. Julie Christie, played her part brilliantly, with the ability to balance a person with Alzheimer’s enough so that it is clear her mind is deteriorating, but not too much that she comes off as “crazy”. You see a significant change in her mannerisms and speaking from the start of the movie from the end of the movie. I think her role impeccably shows the disease of Alzheimer’s in a way that is real, and gives meaning to the clear changes that the family has to go through. I found it interesting that after thirty days she had forgotten Grant, and never retained any memory of him. I longed for her to show some glimmer of memory, whether it be a song and scent, but that day never came.

I was very much moved by the relationship between Grant and Fiona. The relationship seemed very realistic, the dynamics between the two did not seemed forced by anyway. I appreciated the fact that there was truth to their long span of marriage, such as the altercation between Grant and one of his students. Even though this happened, the two stuck together for better and for worse. The fact that among the beginning of her disease Fiona still had memory of this, shows the significance it had on their marriage. I also thought that it was important to show that they still were intimate, and had chemistry between the two. It signified how important they were to one another and how difficult it was for Grant to accept Fiona’s condition, but his willingness and persistence to stay by her side. This movie gave a true portrait of real life couples, struggling with day to day life, a marriage isn’t one huge love story, it takes a mutual commitment.

The whole aspect of Alzheimer’s is quite foreign to me. One set of my grandparents are deceased, while the other I am not super close to. There is a language barrier between my grandmother and I, making it difficult to communicate. She has begun to show some forgetfulness, but it hasn’t really progressed into anything serious. I think that the if I was more aware of the effects of Alzheimer’s on a personal level, I may be more effected by the film and Fiona’s condition. I think that Alzheimer’s would be the most horrifying diseases for me. In the beginning, between episodes of memory and no memory, I think I would really struggle with dealing with the disease. When I was coherent of what was happening, that I was not remembering things would probably really upset me. I like that feeling of being in control, so not being able to remember simple things would really bother me. As time goes on through the film, I really start to feel for Grant, because at this point I don’t think Fiona realize what is going on. Although it is sad for Fiona, she is unaware what is going on, while Grant is forced to deal with the disease as well. I think that it was sad to see Grant become aware that the Alzheimer’s disease is “the beginning of the end” and will ultimately result in his wife’s death. I think that as he sat in the dining room hall watching the patients, he observed various stages of Alzheimer’s, becoming aware of what was to come in the near future.

Another impact of the film on me, was the budding relationship between Grant and Marian. I found it difficult to understand the timeline of the film, because it seemed to switch back and forth between the past and present. However, I think it was important for Grant to develop a relationship with Marian. I think he needed that support from somebody who knew what he was going through. It also gave hope the notion that there is something for him to look forward too, despite of his situation with his wife. He had somebody he could rely on, be intimate with and share a connection with. It shows that all human strive for that connection with people, and he had lost that with his wife due to her disease.

The biggest problem I had was with the ending of the film. In the end, Grant convinces Marian to bring Aubrey back to the nursing home to visit Fiona. The connection that bonded Fiona and Aubrey together everyday was ripped apart, when Marian took Aubrey out of the home. Fiona seemed to miss Aubrey, but the mention of him decreased as time went on. However, Grant convinced for the meeting to happen. However, in the end when Grant tells her that Aubrey was there, Fiona had forgotten who Aubrey was. This was the end of the movie, and it was truly heartbreaking. The effort that Grant put in for this to happen didn’t even matter in the end. Although it gives justice to the true effects of the disease, I had wished for a “happy ending”. Whether it be Fiona remembers Aubrey or Grant. However, Polley stayed consistent with her depiction of a real life relationship right until the end of the film.

In conclusion, I overall enjoyed the film Away from Her. The film focused around the story of an elderly couple, Grant and Fiona, who are forced to deal with Fiona’s diagnose of Alzheimer’s. The director, Sarah Polley used a combination of humour and human intimacy to depict a true honest relationship of a long lasting marriage. I found the movie somewhat moving, enjoying the dynamic relationship of Fiona, Grant, Aubrey and Marian. I would have been more impacted if I had a personal experience related to Alzheimer’s, but still found the film moving. I wish the film had ended differently, in a way that she would somehow recognize Grant’s efforts for his love for Fiona.

Bibliography:Opinion Piece about FilmAway From Her. Film (2006)