Director Harry Macqueen’s sophomore film, Supernova (2020), joins the ranks of Away From Her (2007), The Savages (2007), and Still Alice (2015)—films that depict individuals with dementia struggling to maintain their independence and the mental toll the illness takes on not only the patient but also their kin. What makes Supernova distinct from its predecessors, however, is its focus on a gay couple. Tuskar (Stanley Tucci), a man living with early-onset dementia, and his husband, Sam (Colin Firth), struggle to navigate the uncertain terrain that accompanies caring for a loved one with dementia. While on a road trip to revisit their memories together, Tusker tells Sam, “You’re not supposed to mourn somebody when they are still alive.” This sentiment becomes the guiding force driving the film’s characters through the picturesque British countryside, family gatherings, arguments, laughter, and tears.
The limited temporal scope of Supernova is also notable. Macqueen gives viewers a glimpse into only a few days of the couple’s life. We do not hear a mention of that difficult day that Tuskar received his diagnosis until the latter half of the film, nor do we see Tuskar’s illness out to its bitter end. Macqueen instead focuses on the present, showing the dark shadow a dementia diagnosis has on the everyday lives of the individual and their loved ones.
This is not a feel-good story that will leave you feeling uplifting at the end as in other dementia-themed movies.
However, Supernova is a testament to the power of love and long-term commitment. Sam telling Tusker, “It’s not about fair. It’s about love,” will stay with you as you navigate your own personal relationships.
A common theme throughout the film is the unknowable and the unthinkable, exemplified through Tusker’s hobby as an amateur astronomer. As both Tusker and Sam learn to accept the inevitable, they find comfort in Tusker’s explanation of a supernova: that when a star explodes, it forms an essential part in all of us. Supernova is currently in theaters and will be released digitally on February 16. You can watch the trailer by clicking here.
*Julia F. Rothkoff is a May 2020 graduate of Barnard College of Columbia University, receiving her BA in Film Studies. Julia is currently enrolled in a Master’s program in Jewish Studies at Columbia University. Her father, Jerry Rothkoff, is honored to jointly author this article with his daughter.