We lost my father to cancer when he was only 37. I was too young to comprehend how hard it was for my mum to lose the love of her life and be left with three children. While my father’s health deteriorated, he wrote letters for my siblings and me, which were read on special occasions like our Bar Mitzvah. As our family and friends always say, he loved us more than anything in the world, but he faced death and, only a few months after his diagnosis, passed away.
I often wonder what those conversations were between him and my mum in those final months. What were the crucial things to say? What strength did my mum yield to embrace each day with my dad, siblings, and me, knowing that he would not survive?
These thoughts circled my mind as I watched Supernova, the new British feature starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. The film follows an aging couple, pianist Sam and novelist Tusker, who was diagnosed with dementia two years prior as they road trip in their RV around England to visit family and friends. The naturalistic performances radiate warmth and understanding that even the slightest look at each other out of the corner of their eyes penetrates sincerely.
Their love exists so authentically and feels so lived in that all I wanted to do was hold my partner close and hope that we have forever to come. Supernova is, perhaps, the most romantic film of this past year.
We meet the couple lying naked in bed together, Sam (Colin Firth) nestling into Tusker’s (Stanley Tucci) back. Next, they’re on a road trip in their old RV, traveling down single-lane roads toward an unknown destination. Sam continually checks in on how Tusker feels, and when Tusker affirms he is fine, Sam takes Tusker’s hand and holds it tight. Later, Sam stops the caravan at a grocery store, and while perusing items, he keeps one eye on the RV. When he returns, Tusker is missing. Sam finds him wandering far from the store, lost and traumatized, and they embrace lovingly. Tusker’s evolving dementia symptoms are becoming more severe, and it may only be a matter of time before Tusker forgets who Sam is.
They stop at a campsite for their first night, where they first met many years ago, and Sam steals a moment for himself in the bathroom, choking back his emotions to portray strength for his partner of many years. Tusker’s declining capabilities are becoming more worrying. Still, this trip is for them to enjoy time on the road together, visit family and friends, and eventually arrive at their destination for Sam’s concert. It’s a trip they need, a pilgrimage of sorts, and one that brings them closer to their beginnings and, ultimately, the beautiful life they’ve created together.
Written and directed by Harry Macqueen, Tusker’s dementia is present but not all-consuming. Yet, he is aware of how rapidly he has started to forget the essential things in life, like buttoning his shirt. What makes the script so endearing and tragic are the little details of this relationship. Sam sits reading Tusker’s last novel as Tusker listens to a tape recording of Sam’s piano playing. When they lie in bed, Sam plays the keys on Tusker’s forearms, and Tusker remarks, ‘I could fall right to sleep’ at his tender touch. The longing gazes they share and the beautiful moments of comfort they relish in each other’s arms are more than enough to bring this relationship to life.
Colin Firth has never been better, playing a man troubled with the reality that his life will continue without Tusker. He sublimely holds in his emotions like a kettle on the brink of boiling until he can no longer contain his equilibrium. Stanley Tucci is equally heartbreaking as Tusker’s secrets are revealed, holding his gaze down as though ashamed but confident in his choices. While he still has the capacity, Tusker will do what he can to maintain control. The film is captured with sharpness and beautifully composed imagery by Dick Pope across the UK’s plains. The vastness highlights the treasure of adventure and solitude.
Along their journey, Sam and Tusker stop for a night at Sam’s sister’s home. After they return from a walk in the woods, they’re surprised to see a load of cars in the driveway. Old friends and family have arrived to celebrate Tusker. Once they’re sitting around the table eating, Sam’s sister Lilly (Pippa Haywood) brings Tusker two printer pages to read for his speech. He stands holding the paper but is unable to read the words. He turns to Sam and asks him to read it for him, which Sam does without hesitation. We don’t see how the rest of the party reacts to Tusker’s confusion, but the silence is respectful and patient. As Sam begins reading, he can barely contain his emotions, and reality continues to set in. They are embarking toward the incomprehensible boundaries of Tusker’s illness.
Sam mentions to Tusker that, “I want to be with you every moment,” and we know he will until the untimely end.