Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Away from Her

Two years ago our hospital was the site chosen to film a movie written and directed by Sarah Polley. For several weeks we watched the cast and crew working long hours inside and outside the building. I took the above picture of the hospital courtyard when real snow was on the ground. For the film, the same courtyard was covered with large sheets of fake snow and water was sprayed on it and allowed to freeze. It was winter, but not as snowy as this one has been.

We watched Sarah Polley grow up on the screen in the very popular CBC television series Road to Avonlea. It was a favourite show and we taped each episode on Sunday evenings so the girls could watch it again during the week. This talented young woman made her directing debut with this film and what a success it has been. Last night Away from Her received seven Genie awards including best picture, director and adapted screenplay. Polley and Pinsent are shown in the picture to the left at last night's award show in Toronto. It was very well received at film festivals and was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress (Christie) and best adapted screenplay.

Hospital employees were able to pick up free tickets to see the movie at the theatre last year. I was unable to go, and Becka used my ticket. She found the story very depressing and said, "I never want to get old!" It just came out on DVD and I finally watched it last night. It was very, very well done.

The movie is based on a short story by Alice Munroe called The Bear Came over the Mountain. Fiona (Julie Christie) and Grant ( Gordon Pinsent) have been married for 50 years when Fiona develops Alzheimers Disease. She is placed in a nursing home that has a questionably policy of not allowing any visitors during the first month of the resident's stay. Fiona develops an attachment to another cognitively impaired resident, Aubrey (Michael Murphy) and forgets who her husband is. Grant visits regularly and remains an outsider in his wife's new world. The emotional journey he takes encompasses the past and present and the flashbacks are woven beautifully into the story. The ending is poignant and bittersweet.

I found this movie more realistic than The Notebook, a film with similar subject matter and themes. As a health care professional, I found the attitude of the nursing home staff to be superficial and condescending at times. I wondered if I tend to give pat, textbook answers to my patients and their families who are struggling emotionally with a difficult diagnosis.

It was interesting to see our hospital building featured in the film. Fiona's room in the nursing home is our current physiotherapy treatment room and is still painted the dark purple colour chosen by the set design team. The dining room, front entrance, corridors and elevators are not disguised at all. Grant and Fiona's home is in the country and the sign along the highway that reads "Brant Conservation Area, Grand River Country" is a familiar landmark. I could hear the chickadees calling in the trees outside their home. Working on a dementia unit, the entire story is familiar and realistic in many ways.

Worth renting? Worth buying? Worth watching?.... Yes!


  1. We used to watch "Road" faithfully too. We'd make it part of a visit to grandma and grandpa on Sunday evening. I'd like to see the movie sometime.

  2. That looks like a really good (realistic) movie to watch, especially those of us who are interested in Alzheimer's and what it does to families.

    BTW, I tagged you for a six-word memoir meme. I hope you are willing to play, but if you choose not to, I won't be offended.

  3. Sounds like a wonderful book/movie on an important subject. Thanks for the tip.

  4. I'm not familiar with it, but sounds like it's worth reading/watching.
    Thanks for the info!

  5. I've been reluctant to take this video out though we've seen it at the store ... for the "depressing" factor. My Dad had Alzheimers and my Mom has dementia for sure! I figured I had enough of it in my life without watching more. Maybe one day ... if you recommend it, it must be pretty good. It would be interesting to see "your hospital" as a backdrop!!!

  6. Wow, Ruth - this is fascinating - your connection to the film both geographically and professionally.

    I'd heard years ago - that Julie Christi was struggling with dementia and that her career was side-tracked because she struggled to remember her lines. I'll have to google this.

  7. What a fascinating personal connection to a movie that has received quite a bit of attention.
    Our church, which has started a Friday Night at the Movies (once a month) picked this movie as its premiere movie. I didn't see it, but friends did and thought it very well done.
    Sadly, we had a member of our church who had the precise experience--her husband with AD developed an attachment to a woman in the nursing home where he resided, and introduced her to visitors, including his wife, as his girlfriend.

  8. My sister said doctors told a gentleman to rest for one week from visiting his wife - worn out. When he came back, she did not know him - it may have happened anyway but I felt so sad for both - in case that precipitated the loss, in part.

  9. AC- We used to watch "Road" and "Emily of New Moon". We went to PEI and saw the film sets one summer.

    Mary C- I will check the meme and see if my brain will become engaged ;-)

    Mary- It is a sad story. I doubt my husband would ever watch it.

    Mel- thanks for visiting. I have checked out your interesting blog (the English one that is...I should work on my Spanish too)

    CS- Sad to hear about your parents' difficulties with dementia. The movie may be a bit too close to home.

    Cathy- Julie Christie was wonderful during the filming. She and Gordon Pinsent were very kind to our patients and signed autographs when asked. I haven't heard that she has any difficulties. She is a lovely, elegant lady.

    KGMom- It was very hard to see the attachment Fiona had with the other patient and to understand that she couldn't help her behaviour. It would be very hard for family to see this happen to a loved one.

    Jean- I thought about you often during the movie. I don't think you need to see it, at least right now. But people who are not living with AD on a day to day basis could learn from seeing it.

  10. Thanks for the review-I've heard good things about that movie.-I may try to make myself watch it.I don't like depresing movies but if its really that good I might make an exception.

  11. Anonymous8:40 pm GMT-5

    I have not seen this movie yet and found this very interesting! I will have to add it to my netflex!

  12. Can't wait to check this one out Ruth. Thanks for the review and the history of the shoot. :c)

  13. Hard to imagine watching someone stuck in dementia right now as entertainment, but I've always thought the world of Julie Christie, and I'd love to see where you work. Maybe we'll queue this one up for our chick flick group.

  14. Femaildoc- I hardly think of this story as entertainment. It was quite depressing. You will find the "patients" to be too unimpaired, but I guess it is hard to find drooling, disheveled people for the nursing home. We said they should have used some of our real patients, but they would have been distracting to the story.


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