Monday, January 7, 2008


AWAY FROM HER is an almost perfect little film.

Julie Christie is a revelation. As beautiful as ever, or more so, with age (and likely some face work) and Olivia Dukakis does some fine work as well.

But the ending left me in limbo. Maybe my imagination is weak. Maybe I missed something. Maybe everyone else can figure out what the next scene might be after the film ended, but I couldn’t and I wanted to see it.

I could guess the ultimate ending. That’s clear from the information in the film’s dialogue, as well as the reality of Alzheimer’s. Yet in terms of the dynamics of the relationships in the flick, I couldn’t decide how the next few scenes might actually work, what might happen, or rather, what the author (either Alice Munro in the story the film’s based on, or Sarah Polley’s adaptation) and the director and producers who made the film intended the audience to think was going to happen next.

I wanted to know and felt disappointed that I seemed to get no help from the movie-makers. Maybe I’m just reverting in my old age to wanting endings to stories, endings that are endings. I’m not asking for old-fashioned happy Hollywood endings. Though sometimes they can be quite appropriate to a story and very satisfying to an audience.

Two recent films that I loved were INTO THE WILD and THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, and both of them have very un-Hollywood endings. And both were based on true stories, so the outcome was inevitable and the ending couldn’t have been more real, because it was real.

AWAY FROM HER is fiction, so why couldn’t it too have as satisfying an ending as these real life stories? Is it supposed to be more sophisticated to leave things hanging, with various possibilities in the air, so that an audience walks away, or at least I walk away, bewildered?

On the other hand, maybe it’s great artistry, because the problems the movie presents are bewildering and ultimately unsolvable. And I have to admit, the movie stayed with me and had me considering the meaning of the ambiguous ending (again, only ambiguous as to the exact next scene—i.e. does her husband bring “Aubrey” in? Does she return to being more physically active and therefore get moved back downstairs? etc.)

I’d love some other perspectives, if you’ve seen it.

THE SAVAGES also deals with the deterioration caused or coupled with old age and dementia. And it too is full of terrific performances, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman’s.

Laura Linney does her usual great job, but some of her quirks and obvious neurotic behavior seemed at times, for me, more indicated than lived. She does this wide-eyed, non-blinking thing that I know for myself when I have played characters far from my personality, devices like that, physical tics, can really help create and sustain a character’s essence, but they can also create a kind of parody of character.

Linney’s too good to do the latter, but it seems to me she’s verging on doing that in this role. And Philip Bosco is getting buzz as a supporting actor nominee, for work that is certainly powerful, but again, I didn’t always buy it, I could see the actor acting, unfortunately.

A lot of people I know loved this movie, so it’s probably worth checking out. But for me it was ultimately another disappointment. There were moments of brilliance, and watching these great actors interact was often exciting and satisfying. But there were also moments when, like I said, I just wasn’t buying it.

So, for me, nice try but no cigar. I’d rather have gone back and re-watched Peter O’Toole from last year’s version of old man dying—VENUS.

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