by Jennifer Bryce
So far the movies I’ve seen this year have all been about death and/ or dementia. This hasn’t been a deliberate choice, although obviously something attracts me to them. From my perspective, with each movie, there has been an even better more beautiful dimension offered.
Tusker, a writer, played by Stanley Tucci, sits outside one evening with his partner’s niece (who is perhaps in her early teens) looking at the evening sky — showing her how you can see the Milky Way but also talking about infinity: the unimaginable vastness of space. She doesn’t quite understand. Who does? And maybe Tusker, who has early onset dementia is soothed by contemplating this unknown. He knows, but can’t admit, that he is now unable to write and won’t be able to complete his novel.
Tusker and his long-time partner Sam (played by Colin Firth), try to confront this illness by going on a road trip up north to the Lake District — brilliant incidental humour, they think that the Sat Nav lady sounds like Margaret Thatcher. They have the shared jokes and irritations of a typical longterm couple, as the Guardian review says, they have ‘a sweet and gentle chemistry’
But of course underlying (or indeed dominating) all of this is Tusker’s illness. Tusker is getting worse — they both know this. One time when Sam stops the van to get provisions, Tusker wanders off and gets lost. At a family gathering (everyone silently acknowledges that it’s a kind of farewell celebration) Tusker is unable to read a speech and Sam has to take over. Inevitably, when rummaging through Tusker’s things, Sam finds a tape to be played post mortem and suicide medication.
Throughout the movie we see in Sam’s expressive face — particularly Colin Firth’s eyes — the incredible toll this is for Sam. Firstly, he wants to prevent Tusker from carrying out his plans, then he ultimately comes around to seeing that the most loving thing to do is to be there to help him.
More than any of the other movies I’ve seen about euthanasia, Supernova takes us to the impact on the partner. As the illness progresses, the natural thing to do is to do more for the partner. But that isn’t what the partner wants — in this movie we see how very much Tusker needs to be in control — this need is paramount.
The success of this movie hinges on the fine acting of Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci and the direction of Harry Macqueen (who also wrote the script). At the very end, after the screen has been grey for a few seconds, it is Colin Firth himself who sits at a grand piano and plays Elgar’s Salut d’Amour — a favourite piece of Tusker’s. Sam is now alone.