“You have to let me go.” – Tusker (Stanley Tucci), Supernova
Losing someone you love is never easy. The soul experiences any wide variety of emotions that include a mix of terror, sadness and emptiness. After they’re gone, there’s a reorienting of one’s life that takes place as we come to grips with the fact that there’s now a space in our stories that they once filled.
But what does it mean to let someone go when you still have them?
Set in the lush English countryside, Supernova follows the travels of married couple Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci). After Tusker is diagnosed with early on-set dementia, the two men decide to put their careers on hold to tour places of their past while Tusker can still travel. Revisiting such sentimental locations as Tusker’s childhood home and a lake where the two spent time together, the men have a banter of love and care between them that stems from their many years together. However, as Tusker’s condition worsens and secrets come to light, the two must decide what steps will be taken in order for them to properly navigate the next stage of their journey together.
Directed by Harry McQueen (Hinterland), Supernova is a story filled with bittersweet sadness that works primarily due to the chemistry of its two stars. As long-loved couple Tusker and Sam, Tucci and Firth are an absolute delight. Their relationship has such an ease about it that they are utterly convincing as a married couple. As they attempt to avoid the hurt and loss that edges nearer each day, the love between the two men feels authentic. Tusker and are entirely comfortable with one another and there is a genuine peace between them that Tucci and Firth brings to life.
As they enjoy their last vacation together, their travels carry a dual purpose. One the one hand, this is a trip designed to say goodbye to the people that Tusker has held dear. At the same time though, it’s also an attempt to reclaim normalcy before Tusker’s health declines. Aware that Tusker’s dementia is slowly taking hold over his mind, there is a cloud of sadness that follows them, even in moments of joy and celebration.
For Tusker, this is a time of remembrance. For Sam, this has begun his time of mourning.
You see, the true sadness here is not merely that Tusker is dying. It’s that Sam dreads watching him cease to be Tusker. As Tusker puts it, there will be a time when he wakes up in the morning and does not recognize his husband. While Tusker will be blissfully unaware of the pain this causes, Sam is terrified of having to endure these moments.
By causing them to slip away mentally, dementia steals so much more from the caregivers than mere death can do.
This loss of identity can be what makes dementia such a difficult journey for those who are left to care for those who are suffering. (In fact, it even begs the question of who suffers most greatly in these moments.) With this in mind, if Supernova has a flaw, it’s that it simply doesn’t show how much a person can change. While the film admittedly focuses on a (relatively) early period in his illness, Tusker’s dementia is left to some slight forgetfulness and clumsiness. Though, by emphasizing the sweetness of their love, Supernova deflects the moments that are truly scary for a loved one when the afflicted become irate or simply ‘not themselves’. While Tusker has made his peace with his coming change, Sam is the one who is going suffer the full emotional weight of the disease.
When Tusker suggests that Sam has to ‘let him go’, he’s speaking about more than simply acknowledging the dementia or his impending death. He’s pointing out that Sam must let go of who his husband was if he ever hopes to move on. This admission contains a beautiful sadness within it. Tusker recognizes that the man Sam knows him to be will be gone before the disease takes his body and does not wish to be remembered for the person he will become.
In many ways, this loss ultimately becomes dementia’s greatest tragedy.
Through their loving banter and support, Tucci and Firth give the film its life and spirit as they begin their journey together through the valley of the shadow of death. As a result, while the film’s depiction of dementia comes up short at times, Supernova‘s charm and sincerity make the film worth watching. Poignant but sad, the most important aspect of the film is its exploration of what it means to let someone go, even when they’re still within your arms.
Supernova is available on VOD on Tuesday, February 16, 2021.