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Deeply Moving, 'Supernova' Is Pretty Wonderful

Bleecker Street

The new movie Supernova shows two men, together for 20 years, and one of them is failing. For KUNC film critic Howie Movshovitz, the film is gorgeous — which may not be all good.

Supernova is far too beautiful, which is why it’s hard to question it. Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are in their early 60s. They’ve been a couple for 20 years, and they’re on a road trip in England heading north into Scotland. Sam, a pianist, has a concert coming, but the important reason for the trip is that Tusker, a novelist, is slowly descending into dementia and the two men want to spend as much time together as they can – in the most beautiful ways they can.

And it’s spectacular. Fall colors cascade through the countryside. As the pair drive along, the low hills get bigger and bigger, and even the steep places are covered in forest. And the roads get smaller and smaller. After a bit, the men see no other cars. They drive along graceful streams and camp on the shore of a mountain lake – no one else around.

Sam’s face looks grim with worry, but Tusker has plenty of life in him. There are occasional signs of Tusker’s decline. He gets lost walking the dog; the buttons on a pullover shirt befuddle him. Yet he has plenty of intelligence and humor. They visit the house where Sam grew up. His sister lives there now, and Tusker has arranged with her to let him and Sam sleep in Sam’s narrow childhood bed, and Sam tumbles to the floor.

Tucci and Firth are two of the best actors in the English-speaking world. They’ve got nerve and confidence – you see it in the deep tenderness when they joke or argue or snuggle together. When Sam, full of love and care, kisses Tusker’s bald head.

Supernova shows a relationship under dire stress, but it flips our expectations. Tusker, the dying man, is the stronger of the two. He’s the one willing to look at what’s coming, while Sam has lost his spunk under the weight of how he believes he has to care for Tusker. Tusker leaves his pills at home; Sam worries. Tusker says he did it deliberately – and that they don’t work anyway. Sam can’t give up hoping that the pills will make a difference.

Tusker and Sam are devoted to each other, but their conversation is like two boxers dodging and feinting. They’re mired in the struggle between accepting what’s inevitable and denying it. All this in a world of subtle gradations in color – the autumn yellows and browns outside giving way to evergreens as the altitude rises. Indoors, dark pinks slide into blues, and dark blues into brown.

Acting is a great mystery. Two actors pretend that the characters they play are real, and when the actors are good, like these two guys, we in the audience accept, at least for the moment, that it’s real. Tucci and Firth are pretending feelings many of us might recognize and understand – and we’re moved by the depth of feeling as Tusker and Firth see the life they adore fading away.

It’s not real, of course, no matter how life-like it seems. The remarkable physical beauty of Supernova lulls us in, and so does the comfort of the lives these men still lead. They’re successful artists. Sam’s sister and family welcome them graciously; there’s none of that long-held sibling resentment that fuels so many films, no old family skeletons to exhume. The family and friends are delighted to see Sam and Tusker; they comfort them.

It’s pretty wonderful and we have to remind ourselves that it’s dreamy-wonderful, and not much real-life wonderful. The level of privilege and plain good luck are over the top.

I would wish this life on everyone. But it’s fantasy.

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.
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