The subject matter of this film – a woman in her early 60’s who develops Alzheimer’s disease – may put more than a few people off. But to avoid seeing “Away From Her” would be a mistake. It is simply one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen.
Julie Christie certainly deserves an Oscar for her amazing performance, but Gordon Pinsent is also remarkable as her husband, and Olympia Dukakis puts a special magic into everything she does. Here are my thoughts about the film’s subject matter:
The movie transcends others I have seen on this topic by looking past the usual “movie of the week” portrayal of the illness and discovering the richness of life, rather than the tragedy of disease. In doing so, it instructs us in the art of caring for people with dementia.
We see that a beautiful facility with bright natural light, family-style dining, a variety of programming choices and positive, friendly staff can nevertheless be lacking in the qualities that create home for others. We see the critical importance of preserving ones ability to give care as well as to receive it. We also see a richness of experiential observations from Fiona (Christie) that show that a person with dementia is so much more than a sum of what they can and cannot do.
In spite of her illness, Fiona is able to exhibit grace, wisdom, humor and compassion. She also shows that by letting go and entering the world of the person with Alzheimer’s you can often best reveal the person inside. And the film reaffirms my somewhat unpopular belief that people should not be segregated or stratified based on a disease or level of function.
There is certainly sadness, but it never appears in the places you might expect. Instead it dwells in the complexities of life, love and relationships, rather than in simplistic portrayals of the disease.
Most of all, the film shows the power of love. It reminds us that love is easy and rather common when things are going well, but it is an uncommon love indeed that navigates the rougher waters of life. And the greatest irony is that the wisest words throughout the remarkable script always seem to be spoken by the person with dementia:
“Sometimes there’s something delicious in oblivion.”
“I’m going, but I’m not gone.”
And, “People ought to be in love every single day.”
— Al Power