Away From Her (2006)
Alzheimer's disease has become one of filmmakers' favourite hobbyhorses in the 2000s, which is timely given the pain and hardship the people who experience this disease directly or indirectly endure. Only a few weeks ago, a member of my family who had been living with Alzheimer's for the past ten to fifteen years passed away. His spouse had stood by him all along, largely forsaking her own physical well-being in the process. I know how incredibly mixed emotions this condition causes for the closest ones - and of course, especially for the partner.
Iris was one of my favourite movies of 2001 - a film that tried to get under the characters' skin, tried to understand their anguish. Sarah Polley's much applauded Away From Her does things the other way around: it uses the impact of the disease to tell a rather sloppy and pompous story that would be categories as romantic pulp for the ageing at your local newsstand. Polley's treatment of the nature of the disease is inaccurate, to say the least, and although the film has some beautiful moments, these are easily outshone by the the director's desperate and self-conscious wish to make her film even more beautiful and sincere.
The result is lack of sincerety. The acting is fine, given the circumstances. For instance, both Christie and Pinsent give wholehearted performances, but how come they don't feel like people who have had lives outside of these 110 minutes? Maybe because they aren't given space to breath, but are subjected to a series of constructed events to which they seem to react largely the same way. One should think that being diagnosed with Alzheimer's or being dumped or adulterous would stir up some irrational emotions - some existentialstic soul-searching. But not for these people - Fiona Anderson happily admits herself into the clinic once she realises she is suffering from Alzheimers. That must be a first.
Away From Her is more disappointing than it is bad, because it has so much more potential than it is able to free. Either something was lost in the cutting, or something was forgotten in the writing process. At any rate, the result is a disappointing and immaturely directed film.