Sarah Polley's adaptation of Alice Munro's short story 'The Bear Came Over the Mountain' for her feature film debut was an inspired choice. A heartfelt portrait of human life at its most vulnerable, 'Away from Her' is about bravery far more than it is about illness and heartbreak, which is what gives you a great sense of hope, despite its often bleak outlook.
Fiona (Christie) and Grant (Pinsent) are seemingly living the idyllic life. In their later years they appear very much in love as they enjoy their retirement at their cottage in the hills. Days are filled with skiing in the vast landscape around their home. Nights are taken up with reading to each other as they enjoy a glass of wine. And so when Alzheimer's Disease hits, it becomes the hardest battle to deal with as it puts the heaviest strain on their already mended relationship.
At first, there are little confusions that they both try to ignore. Fiona will place the frying pan in the fridge or forget the name for a common-use item around the house. And while her husband attempts to play down the symptoms, Fiona knows what lies ahead and is determined that she must do what is best for both of them by entering a care hospital.
But Grant could not have known when they made this decision how quickly his wife would slip away from him in mind once she enters the facility and strikes up new friendships with the residents there. Most especially, she develops a kind of co-dependence with mute stroke victim Aubrey (Murphy), who hangs on her every word and pours his affections over her, despite having a wife himself (Dukakis). A heartbroken and confused Grant turns to Fiona's nurse Kristy (Thomson) for answers and later, upon not hearing what he wants to hear, is forced to make a very difficult decision.
What strikes is that these are very normal people - people who, by their own admissions, have had indiscretions and slightly more. But the love remains and is very real, so genuine that it becomes completely selfless. Fiona and Grant's relationship is most captivating from this point of view. We can see that their love is not squeaky clean, rather tarnished, but ultimately their bond is triumphant over the many factors that chip away at their affection for each other over a long period of time.
This film will break your heart, not because it is overly sentimental in its treatment but because it's all too true. The dilemmas that the characters face are vividly played out by a cast of fantastic actors, headed by the able Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. This moving story goes a long way towards giving us a glimpse inside the minds of both the sufferer and the loved one, who quickly becomes relegated to bystander - and as such it is a very strong piece of cinema.