In this superbly tacit chamber piece, intolerable pressure is brought to bear on the 44-year marriage between a college professor and his homemaker spouse after she is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Grant Andersson (Gordon Pinsent) and his wife, Fiona (Julie Christie), have weathered a difficult but durable union in which much, wisely or not, has gone unsaid. When Fiona starts putting frying pans in the freezer, not much is said either. But when she starts wandering off and placing herself in danger, Fiona firmly and efficiently decides—with quietly anguished opposition from her husband—to enter a high-end nursing home whose gleaming surfaces stand in creepy contrast to the comfortable disorder of the Anderssons' home. There, just as efficiently, Fiona seems to forget who Grant is and takes up with Aubrey (Michael Murphy), a near-catatonic inmate she claims to have known in her youth. A less attuned writer might have betrayed its source—a short story by Alice Munro—by turning Alzheimer's into a metaphor for life, complete with eleventh-hour uplift. But first-time feature writer-director Sarah Polley weaves the couple's suffering into a great love story that begins with Grant's terrified denial and ends—perhaps—with unconditional devotion.
Christie remains radiant to the end.
Away From Her
Opens at Seven Gables and Uptown, Fri., May 11. Rated PG-13. 110 minutes.