Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth, two Hollywood greats, play a couple grappling with a dementia diagnosis in new romantic drama “Supernova.”
Caring for someone with dementia is not for the faint of heart. Watching a loved one experience the disease’s corrosive symptoms, caregivers can become different people, too.
Harry Macqueen’s sophomore film “Supernova,” starring Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth, depicts just that. The moving romantic drama explores a delicate journey through dementia with nuance, restraint and humor. Tucci and Firth – who share a non-fictional friendship spanning over two decades – play long-time partners in the film. Sam (Firth), a classical pianist and Tusker (Tucci), a novelist, embark on a road trip through northern England in a Winnebago, with their dog in tow, to visit their family.
“We’re not going back, you know,” Sam says to Tusker in the opening line as they drive down the open road. While he was alluding to any items they may have forgotten at home, a downcast undertone is felt. Tusker has received a diagnosis of early-onset dementia, and a sense of finality also hangs in the air as the pair recognizes that this may be their last vacation before Tusker’s health deteriorates and life changes dramatically.
Tusker is stuck in his ways, insisting on using a map, instead of GPS, to guide them through the countryside and refusing to let Sam pack his suitcase. It’s these small things, we learn, that bring him dignity.
Although Tusker has moments where he seems his old self, it’s clear these moments are becoming increasingly seldom. Tusker’s memory seems to be rapidly declining, so much so that Sam queries his medication usage. Tusker argued there was no use in taking them – not only because they have no effect on him, but because every time he did take them, it reminded him of his illness. He just wanted to enjoy this vacation without the constant reminder that his mind was failing him. Much to Sam’s discontentment, Tusker finally admits he purposely left the medication at home. Sam did say it’s too late to go back home, afterall.
“Dementia is hard because it’s abstract, in a way. Not only abstract in a way for the person who has it, but for the person who’s taking care of them, because you can’t tell: the person looks perfectly fine. From one moment they’re fine, and from the next moment, they’re not.”
Tusker, in a quintessential, introspective, writer-like manner, has come to terms with his fate. He accepts that he is often tired, confused and seldom has the wherewithal to make progress on his latest novel. This awareness of his own decline, however, only exacerbates his biggest fear: losing control.
“I’m becoming a passenger,” he says to Sam. “And I am not a passenger.” Tusker wants to find closure on his own terms, instead of falling victim to the grim fate he sees ahead.
This comes as a shock to Sam, who envisioned the pair fighting this disease against all odds. Sam’s own delusions come to the fore as he secretly flips through the private musings written in his lover’s notebook. He sneakily does so in attempts to understand what progress Tusker has made with his latest novel, since he refuses to talk about it whenever Sam asks. As Sam flips through the pages, he smiles as he sees Tusker’s pristine cursive filling the brim of each page. But with each page turn, Sam sees Tusker’s handwriting deteriorate, to the point where all that’s left is a lonely scribble on an otherwise empty page. Tusker’s writing paints a clear picture of how his dementia trajectory has progressed. In that moment, you can feel Sam’s fearfulness of what may be to come.
While viewers will relish the film’s most emotionally raw moments, it’s not all doom and gloom: The two share a mesmerizing chemistry, surely cultivated through their off-screen friendship and long-standing acting careers. They compliment, tease and challenge each other in a loving way only a long-term couple could. When Tusker struggles to dress himself and Sam comes to his aid, Tusker finds humor, saying: “I knew I’d be successful enough one day to have my own dresser.”
In “Supernova,” you’re not just watching a gay couple cope with illness and mortality, but living through each moment with them. The scenes are vulnerable, tender and intimate in their own way. The film not only normalizes the everyday dementia experience, but also their relationship, which is never focused on or queried, but rather wholly accepted throughout the film.
Tucci researched dementia extensively to prepare for his role – watching documentaries and footage of people with dementia to see how they behaved in the early and middle stages of the disease.
“Dementia is hard because it’s abstract, in a way,” Tucci said in an interview with Indiewire. “Not only abstract in a way for the person who has it, but for the person who’s taking care of them, because you can’t tell: the person looks perfectly fine. From one moment they’re fine, and from the next moment, they’re not.”
A supernova is a powerful and luminous explosion that occurs at the end of a star’s lifetime. Tusker hopes his ‘supernova’ will allow him to be remembered for who he is at his core and not who he is about to become.
Supernova is available to watch across multiple platforms, including Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, iTunes, and Prime Video, where it’s available to rent for $6.99. You can also watch it for free on Tubi.
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