Film Review: Supernova Dir: Harry Macqueen

Supernova is a powerful examination of human mortality from director Harry Macqueen, contrasting the long-lasting beauty of nature with the frailty of the human body and the love required to endure our acceptance of inevitability.

SupernovaAt 89 minutes, Supernova packs an incredible emotive punch and is by no means an easy watch. However, it is ultimately a rewarding and relevant film for anyone brave enough to tackle its difficult subject matter, and particularly for those who can relate to any aspect of the human condition presented on screen.

Supernova opens with slow-building piano and strings against a black background, gradually increasing in manic energy and beautiful intensity as the night sky comes into focus, a single star blazing against the blackness with a flash of magnificence before both reach their crescendo and fade to nothingness.

It’s an emotional preface to meeting Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci), partners for 20 years who are travelling across England to the Lake District together. Tusker has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, and the pair are spending as much time together as they can, revisiting fading memories and reuniting with friends and family.

Macqueen’s previous film, Hinterland, demonstrated the director’s ability to complement a narrative with stunning landscapes, captured again in Supernova by cinematographer Dick Pope. The film’s pacing matches the increasingly strained efforts of the pair to draw out every moment they have remaining, with England’s Lake District presented exquisitely; lingering shots of rolling yellow, green, and chartreuse hillsides turn effortlessly into wide shots of stretching, calm lakes and the surrounding highlands.

These moments remind us of all the temporal and everlasting beauty in the world around us, and how the companionship of one, like-minded soul can transform our view on the world into something unforgettable, and impossible to replicate in their absence. The beauty is still there, the stars are still there, but the brightness and joy of it fade as the memory does.

SupernovaThe performances by Firth and Tucci are exceptional, as they would need to be to handle the immense weight of the subject matter and portray the responsibilities and burdens felt by both men. We see this in the opening minutes of meeting the two; their connection is a little stilted, their conversations perfectly ordinary, jokes that don’t land well and comments that sting less than you’d hope – but it’s in this that we see the heart of the characters, and how they’re both desperately trying to remain connected.

Then there are the moments that take you joyfully by surprise, a spark of playfulness in a dreary cafe, a glimmer of hope or clarity amongst the dull reality of sickness, ageing and loss. Contrasting these are an unflinching look at the other side of the coin, a soulmate and lover who must endure the agony of holding both himself and his partner together, the kind of burden that weighs you down in the middle of cooking dinner and causes you to uncontrollably weep in the bathroom for a moment, wondering how much longer you can hold that strength and the fear of what may happen if you cannot.

SupernovaThe final third of the film touches on themes that will be devastating for anyone who can relate to them, experienced those moments, and tried to remain human and not allow the world to break them in the process. It will take a full and heavy heart to find the beauty within the torment, but for those willing to make the journey, the reward is a sense of personal discovery and reflection on all that makes us human, and the toll it takes on our hearts to remain so in the face of everything that can strip our humanity, dignity, and the joy of life from us.

As the film fades along with our characters, the slow piano from the opening reminds us of what it is to love in life, and to remain beside your love through everything. The good, the bad, the beautiful, and the tragic, the laughter, the depression, and everything two humans can allow themselves to be open to – ultimately, to ensure that neither is ever truly alone in this life while the other is in it, and so that the beauty of the world, the fields and the stars and the colour of life still hold their wonder and magnificence and linger on in our absence.

Starring: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, James Dreyfus, Pippa Haywood, Sarah Woodward.

Oxford Lamoureaux

Supernova opens in cinemas February 25th.