As cosmic events, supernovae are gigantic, destructive explosions of massive stars in distant places of the universe. But for the naked eye from distance, they are also the silent loss of a precious light in a familiar night sky: one moment it is there, and the next will not be anymore. This twofold metaphor is how the movie Supernova tells the process of dealing with early-onset dementia for a loving couple of men who embark on a trip together: a destructive explosion of all they know and care about, and the silent fading out of the loved one’s light in our sky.
In the middle of Autumn, Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) begin a road trip through the English countryside. In their camper van, they visit friends and family, revisit dear memories of their past and try to figure out what the future will hold in the wake of Tusker’s illness, a form of dementia that is rapidly diminishing his capabilities and increasing his dependence on Sam’s care. The trip starts as a mutual agreement to rest and take their minds away from the disease, but as the narrative develops amidst winding roads and bucolic landscapes, it unfolds the conflicts of the two partners that have different visions of their future, different approaches to Tusker’s dementia, and confronting views on what caring for, and loving and freeing the other really means.
Supernova is a crossover of the road trip genre, which in this case is set as an end-of-the-road narrative, and the dementia trope, recently explored by powerful movies like Anthony Hopkins’ Father and Julianne Moore’s Still Alice. The focus of Supernova is not really centered on the chaos and confusion of the disease, nor necessarily on the terrible angst of losing oneself; but on the intimate portrait of how a couple exercises and reflects on loving when fading out, and ultimately letting go as an act of love. And this is accomplished, almost soothingly, through the views of the countryside landscapes: valleys, mountains, lakes and foggy hills that mirror the melancholy and stoicism with which Sam and Tusker deal with their situation.
The emotional success of the movie is mostly accomplished through this poetic natural setting, and through the elegant, just force with which Firth and Tucci represent their characters, even in moments when the script is not the strongest. In the end, Supernova turns out to be a simple and slow movie, but in a good way, and made with care: a compelling story of a difficult topic (an explosion) that manages to make it soft and silent and bright.
Written by Juan Álvarez Umbarila