Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Sarah Polley
Starring: Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Michael Murphy
(PG-13, 110 min.)
"The leaves of memory seemed to make a mournful rustling in the dark." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
If you long for a break from summertime’s endless froth, be sure to see this starkly unsentimental portrait of a couple coping with the ruthless unraveling of Alzheimer’s disease. The radiant Julie Christie lends the film intrinsic beauty and class, making her inevitable mental eclipse perhaps easier or more difficult to watch.
Of course, the one watching with the greatest difficulty is Grant (Gordon Pinsent) her devoted though not always faithful husband of 44 years. He is the one reluctant to abandon Fiona to the brisk institutional cheerfulness of Meadow Lake, particularly when he learns that policy forbids any contact with new residents for the first thirty days.
Dressed more like she is boarding the next jet for Paris rather than checking into her last stop to oblivion, Fiona is the strong one. She remembers a trek through the woods and the spring wild flowers as they pass by the park en route to Meadow Lake, uttering a final cry of bravado: “I’m going, but I’m not gone yet.”
Only Grant clings to that memory as reason to turn round, but she strides into her Spartan room like a princess, draws Grant into her new bed for a final act of lovemaking, and then bravely sends him home.
What sets this film apart, in addition to its disciplined avoidance of sentimentality, is the eye for detail, irony and purposeful ambiguity. That all this is accomplished in the directorial hands of 27 year old Canadian Sarah Polley is remarkable, though perhaps only the very young are insulated enough from the assault of old age to gaze upon it so fiercely. Of course, the original material comes from the gifted Alice Munroe’s short story, “The Bear Came over the Mountain,” but much credit goes to the young Polley who not only directed but also wrote the screen adaptation.
A particularly poignant moment is Grant’s first visit to Meadow Lake after the imposed thirty-day hiatus. The audience shares his double hurt when it becomes clear that Fiona has not only clearly forgotten her husband of 44 years is in that mere month, but is now entirely besotted with another patient, the wheelchair bound mute, Aubrey. Being assured that these “attachments’ are very typical, Grant must content himself with those fragments of time Fiona can squeeze in while Aubrey naps.
His acceptance of Fiona’s state goes through several stages, progressing from wounded pride to encompassing love. Is Fiona perhaps trying to punish him with her obsessive attention to Aubrey, he wonders out loud to Nurse Kristie (Kristen Thompson), who fails to offer pat reassurance, but instead wonders what past transgressions would merit this “punishment.”
The presentation of these past transgressions is handled with ironic deftness. They are brought up as barbed allusions and brief flashbacks, such as Fiona recounting the sandaled female feet Grant couldn’t ignore. Of course, the Alzheimer’s erases the recent past – his twenty years of blissful fidelity seem forgotten, while the decades old dalliances seem fresh and raw to Fiona, until even those hurts are sealed away forever.
The following Christmas Grant is content to watch her share her holiday dinner with Aubrey, enjoying Fiona’s beauty and gaiety from a distance. Later on, when Aubrey is forced to leave for financial reasons, Grant’s devotion is tested to the fullest, and no longer jealous, he does all in his power to bring this source of joy back to Fiona.
The irony of Grant’s means to this end, and the temporary twist of fate he encounters along the way, probably work very well in the short story, where characters mostly serve the literary devices of an author. Perhaps it is a tribute to the acting of the two leads that Grant and Fiona become real enough for this viewer to feel some indignation at this final coy manipulation, stylistically pleasing as it may be.
(On a hopeful note, there is a proposed cure for the deadly disease on the forefront.)
We get just enough glimpses into their idyllic life together to anguish over Grant and Fiona’s loss of it. The cozy cabin, hardly changed since Fiona’s grandparents lived there, the pristine snow begging for cross county skiers, and the warm kitchen, just the place to cook up some real Canadian comfort food.
I have chosen a delicious Apple Sour Cream Cake, sufficiently lowered in sugar and fat to cope with our simmering swimsuit season rather than calorie burning cross country skiing more attuned to our Canadian cousins.
Enjoy and relish every day of life, the sad as well as the happy memories.
Apple Sour Cream Cake
- 2 tablespoons light margarine
- 4 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cu egg whites
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups flour
- 3/4 cup Splenda granular
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoonsalt
- 1 cup fat free sour cream
- 2 cups chopped apples
- 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
- 6 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
- 1/2 cup quick oats
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 cup Splenda brown sugar blend
- 2 teaspoons melted butter
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Grease a 13 x 9 x 2 baking pan.
- Melt margarine and mix with applesauce.
- Beat applesauce mix with the sugar.
- Add egg whites and vanilla, beat well.
- Sift together flour, Splenda, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
- Add dry ingredients to the first mixture alternately with 1 cup sour cream.
- Stir in chopped apples.
- Spread evenly in greased pan.
- Mix together ingredients for topping.
- Sprinkle over batter.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes.
Recipe Source: Recipezaar.com