On Love, Distance, and Dementia
On my way home from watching Harry Macqueen’s Supernova (2020), I didn't seem to be able to find my way back. So, as I sat on the wrong train, Keaton Henson’s score still filling me with wonder, I was left asking myself why Macqueen’s film had elicited such an odd reaction in me. Should there be a disclaimer before every screening of Supernova saying ‘beware of possible transport-related confusion that may arise from the viewing of this film’? No, of course not. Truth is, the last time a film affected me this much it was Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2020) last winter. But while Gerwig’s film made me bawl like a baby, Supernova did something else entirely.
The film follows Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci), partners of twenty years, as they embark on a road trip across England to visit friends and family for what seems to be the last time. The trip’s purpose? To impart goodbyes as Tusker’s dementia progresses. Writer and director Harry Macqueen has created a film with the ability to be gut-wrenchingly moving, while at the same time intensely delicate. Supernova is blinding because of its normalcy. The film treats love and death delicately as its central motifs. Macqueen writes them into his screenplay subtly until they aren’t subtle at all; until they’re more magnificent and breathtaking than the romantic landscapes that the protagonists travel through (enhanced by Henson’s score). Of course, Firth and Tucci’s moving performances are key in making a wonderfully sensitive script truly shine.
Perhaps I didn’t realize this while sitting dazed on a train, but now the reason why Macqueen’s film left me breathless seems obvious. About a year ago, my family started a similar journey as my uncle began forgetting. So, when Tusker asked ‘How do you mourn someone that is still alive?’, I felt like I was back home, on a walk with the most eloquent and patient teacher I have ever known, with nothing to say. So I got on the wrong train.
In the end it’s this wordlessness, this feeling of having nothing to say, that makes Supernova so touching: it is a perfect representation of the distance dementia can create within loving relationships. This is a road movie where the titular characters don’t know that they’re heading in opposite directions. While Sam is gearing himself up to care for Tusker as he gradually forgets, Tusker is preparing himself to die. They are on parallel journeys that crash into panic when they intersect.
This gentle treatment of illness, love, and distance is what makes Supernova the impactful film that it is. I too know the feeling of walking next to someone as they walk away from you. And this is it.
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Maria Orlando is a writer that traded Italy's mild weather for London's constant drizzle. Oh well. She can especially be found writing about anything even remotely queer.
This article was edited by Ainhoa Santos Goicoechea (pronounced "I-know-ah"), a culturally confused Creative Writing postgraduate student from the Basque Country, Spain. She is passionate about film, music and politics, and she should probably know more than she does about all three.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
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