64th BFI London Film Festival – ‘Supernova’ Review

The term ‘supernova’ is used to describe the powerful and monumental explosion that occurs at the end of a star’s life cycle; accompanying a supernova is often a large and shrouding black hole encapsulating everything in its perimeter. In more earthly terms, Harry Macqueen uses the phrase in his latest venture Supernova to liken the formation of this endless and destructive void to the catastrophic journey of watching a loved one’s life slowly become engulfed by dementia. Tusker (Stanley Tucci) is a proclaimed novelist living with early-onset dementia. Two years into his diagnosis and wanting to make the most of his life whilst he can still remember – Tusker and his partner of 20 years, Sam (Colin Firth), set off in their campervan for a road trip across the rolling hills and swooping valleys of the lake district to visit friends and family. On the way, the pair come face-to-face with the realities of Tusker’s deteriorating condition and the moral deliberations on the best ways to live out a life with dementia, if at all.  

Photo © BBC Films & StudioCanal UK

Leading with two remarkably crafted and detailed performances, Firth and Tucci collide to create a captivating dynamic of two souls desperately trying to save each other from harm. Sam is the worrier of the two, often overbearing as he tries to take control of every single little detail in Tusker’s life. Yet his concerns are not unfounded, independent and stubborn Tusker likes to insist things are fine and rejects any help – often leading him into tricky situations such as getting lost alone in the middle of nowhere with no idea how he got there. Try as he might to conceal it, there are many things Tusker is losing a grip of – struggling with reading maps, the inability to recount words, and difficulty dressing are all signs that everyday tasks are slowly slipping through Tusker’s fingers. The pair do their best to prepare themselves for the worst that is yet to come, even ensuring they record ‘dementia time’ tapes together to help explain things to a future Tusker. Emotive enough to feel real but still handled with a restrained soberness, Supernova never borders on the saccharine or melodramatic. Instead, the film offers a more mindful look at the long run of dementia and the waiting game that accompanies it as the pair try to preserve their normal lives.

Photo © BBC Films & StudioCanal UK

Mingling his way through dinner parties with his natural wit and charm, Tusker is sure to keep a brave face for friends and family at all times. Friends mention newspaper clippings about new research into dementia drugs, Tusker smiles politely and feigns interest but ultimately has little hope. Sam tries to remain more optimistic, ruminating over ideas of bungalows and even possible nurses for Tusker – an idea he knows Tusker would never agree to. Tusker instead meets his fate with a more stoic realism, deeply mourning losing his dignity and independence – ‘I am becoming a passenger. I am not a passenger’ he insists. 

Delving into the ethical arguments surrounding living with a progressively worsening condition like dementia, Supernova asks how much say someone should have over their final years and how this decision impacts those surrounding them. While the script is filled with some striking dialogue (Tucci shines once again with his instinctive ability to make the smallest of lines feel significant) the way in which the latter half of the story is constructed can, at times, seem a bit heavy-handed and abrupt. The film starts off smoothly but somewhere amongst the second act, it stumbles. Quickly alternating from its unhurried and subtle flow to something much more rapid. Scenes feel rushed and the important topics raised aren’t given half the time they deserve. Naturally, this unpredictable shift could be likened to the unguessable nature of dementia itself but the comparison does not feel deliberate. 

Photo © BBC Films & StudioCanal UK

There is no blueprint on how to deal with mourning; especially in long-standing syndromes such as dementia, where individuals start to grieve the loss of their loved one’s memories, personality, and cognitive ability way before they have even passed. Yet, Supernova tries to make some sense of the anticipatory grief that lingers between those living with the condition and those who must stand aside and simply watch. Undoubtedly enveloped in sadness, Supernova is a poignant, bitter-sweet and attentive tale of love, loss, and mourning. 

Rating: image-2

Written by Abi Aherne

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.

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