A Splendid Adaptation of a Superb Literary Short Story
The Canadian film Away From Her (2006) is a poignant, intelligent, low-keyed drama that was adapted from Alice Munro's short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," which appeared in The New Yorker in 1999. The short story was later included in the 2001 book Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. The movie was written and directed by 28-year-old Sarah Polley. The acting is impressive with strong leading performances by Julie Christie and Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent. Also, Olympia Dukakis is notable in a supporting role.
The film is a tough-minded love story set in the world of older people, and the artfully told tale has twists and turns that keep the viewer engaged. But Away From Her is not like a cookie-cutter Hollywood film, and it's not like a made-for-TV movie. Although a woman's worsening Alzheimer's drives the narrative, the film doesn't focus on the grim reality most people face in coping with the disease. Instead, the movie uses the situation to explore the characters' humanity. The filmmakers have no intention of making the viewer weep. Instead, they want the viewer to ponder. But the restraint results in a movie with enormous emotional punch.
An Old Married Couple Must Adjust to a Change in Their Relationship
"I never wanted to be away from her," explains Grant (Gordon Pinsent). "She has the spark of life."
He's talking about Fiona (Julie Christie), his wife of 45 years. But her lapses into forgetfulness, confusion and disorientation become too frequent to ignore. And as she wisely says, "I don't think we should be looking for something we like… I think all we can aspire to in this situation is a little bit of grace."
There are few options open to Grant and Fiona, but they are strong-willed people who choose not to simply wait around for the inevitable to happen. They make painful decisions, and these lead to what is probably the best outcome that can be hoped for under the circumstances.
"It's never too late to become what you might have been"
In Away From Her, we see almost everything from the point of view of Grant, who is a retired university professor. He's always loved Fiona, but when he was middle-aged, he went through a period of marital infidelity. Years later he still gets a hangdog look every time he is reminded of it. As for Fiona, she seems more accepting of the varying desires of the human heart. She says, "I think people are too demanding. People want to be in love every single day. What a liability."
As Fiona's Alzheimer's gets progressively worse, Grant continues to want to keep her at home, but she insists on checking herself into a deluxe assisted-living facility. Later when Grant visits there, he is perplexed that Fiona treats him with cool civility. And she makes no effort to conceal her emotional attachment to Aubrey (Michael Murphy), a wheelchair-bound man who does not talk. She says about her new best buddy, "He doesn't confuse me. He doesn't confuse me at all."
Intercut with the story of Grant and Fiona is a call Grant makes on Aubrey's down-to-earth wife Marian (Olympia Dukakis). As soon as Grant leaves and Marian shuts the door behind him, she utters, "What a jerk!" Nevertheless, she ends up playing an important role in the film's satisfying resolution.
A Wonderful Feature Film, but the Bonus Materials Disappoint
The DVD provides an audio commentary for the feature film by lead actress Julie Christie. She makes a few worthwhile remarks about learning to speak with a Canadian accent and her experiences in working with the other actors and writer-director Sarah Polley. Although there are long pauses in Christie's commentary, the main shortcoming is that she is simply not knowledgeable about the many production details those of us who liked the movie want to hear.
The only other extra on the DVD consists of five deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by Polley. These have a total runtime of slightly over eight minutes. Here we learn that some filming was done in Paris, Ontario. We also find out that Fiona was unable to bear children, and there's a short scene where Grant hears Aubrey speak. But on balance the deleted scenes are of only marginal interest.DVD Details
Below I have listed all the details for the DVD containing Away From Her.
Release Date: September 11, 2007
Feature Film Run Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Some Strong Language
Widescreen (1.78:1), Color
English 5.1 Dolby Digital
English 2.0 Dolby Digital
English Captions for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Audio Commentary by Lead Actress Julie Christie
Deleted Scenes (5 scenes, total runtime = 8 min.)