Reviewed by Rosemarie Leenerts, Library Assistant
Because of the way it alters personalities and clouds memories, Alzheimer’s disease is difficult on both patients and their families. In a realistic and heartrending way, the 2007 movie Away from Her does an excellent job of dramatizing both sides of the hardship, especially the difficulties faced by spouses who must step into a new role as caregiver.
Starring Julie Christie as Fiona and Gordon Pinsent as Grant, Away from Her is the story of a long-married couple who begin to witness signs of Fiona’s memory loss. From not knowing where to store pots and pans to getting lost while cross-country skiing, Fiona struggles with day-to-day life until she concludes on a hike with Grant, “I think I may be beginning to disappear.” With Grant’s help, she seeks medical intervention, and the two decide the best place for Fiona, who is just 66 years old, is a group nursing home for memory-loss patients.
Adhering to the facility’s guidelines to allow for acclimation, Grant leaves Fiona to settle into Meadowlake without any visitors for the first 30 days of her stay. A month later, upon reuniting with Fiona, Grant realizes she not only does not recognize him, but she has formed an unusually close attachment to another resident, a man named Aubrey. Fiona barely leaves Aubrey’s side throughout Grant’s visit, and Grant is left looking on at his wife from across the room. When each subsequent day’s visit brings him no closer to Fiona, Grant is perplexed and asks Fiona why she rarely leaves Aubrey’s side, to which she responds, “He doesn’t confuse me. He doesn’t confuse me at all.”
As Fiona adjusts to her new life at Meadowlake, Grant is left puzzling over the changes in his wife and his marriage: Is Fiona putting on an act? Is she punishing him for his past indiscretions? Will she ever recognize him as the man she has been married to for over 40 years?
When Fiona’s health deteriorates, Grant must make difficult choices related to her care and decides to perform a selfless act that may not bring Fiona back to him but may restore some happiness to her.
Based on a short story by Alice Munro and written for the screen by director and actress Sarah Polley, Away from Her is a poignant, unforgettable film in which the characters play out the complexities of a cruel disease that drives a wedge between loved ones when they need each other the most.
In observance of National Family Caregivers Month, request and check out Away from Her (rated PG-13) through curbside pickup.