Away From Her Review
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Grant (Gordon Pinsent) can still remember the day—more than 45 years ago—when his wife, Fiona (Julie Christie), proposed to him. But each day, Fiona remembers less and less. Grant can’t believe that his wife, who’s still so young and vibrant and healthy, could be in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease—maybe she’s just a little forgetful, he tells himself—but after she’s diagnosed, Fiona is able to accept that it’s time to find someone to take care of her.

Grant struggles with the decision to move Fiona into a facility for Alzheimer’s patients—especially when he discovers that it means he won’t be able to visit her for the first 30 days, while she gets used to her new surroundings. But Fiona is determined to go, so he reluctantly helps her pack her things and move into her new home. After the first 30 days are over, Grant rushes to visit Fiona, only to find that she doesn’t really remember who he is—and she’s become attached to Aubrey (Michael Murphy), a wheelchair-bound fellow patient. Though she sees her husband as a kind man who visits her every day, she cares about Aubrey because, as she tells Grant, “He doesn’t confuse me.”

As Grant watches Fiona take care of Aubrey, he looks back on the years they spent together—and the unconditional love that his wife always showed him.

Having spent several years watching someone I loved dearly progress through the stages of Alzheimer’s, I found Away From Her to be absolutely heart-wrenching—yet achingly beautiful. Director Sarah Polley portrays the disease accurately—from the early stages, when Fiona laughs off her inability to remember certain words, to the middle stages, when she begins wandering off, to the later stages, when she starts to forget about important details and people in her life—and even to those haunting moments of lucidity. Polley doesn’t exaggerate the illness to try to make it humorous, nor does she over-dramatize it to make the story more emotive. But she doesn’t have to. The story (based on “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” a short story by Alice Munro) is powerful enough to touch audiences’ hearts.

More than just a story about Alzheimer’s, though, Away From Her is a love story. It’s the story of a woman who always stood by her husband, even when it wasn’t easy, and it’s the story of a man who will do anything to ensure his wife’s happiness, no matter how difficult it is for him to do. Christie and Pinsent are magnificent in their roles—and legendary actress Christie, especially, is so captivating in her performance that she may want to start thinking about gowns for next year’s award ceremonies.

Though Away From Her definitely isn’t an easy film to watch—especially if its subject matter hits close to home—its beautiful story and remarkable performances make it well worth seeing.

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