Harry Macqueen’s previous film Hinterland is a tender, deeply moving story of love and its challenges. It’s a trend he continues with Supernova, though this chapter is more about letting people go than bringing them back into your lives. Macqueen’s latest work is a tragedy that leaves you close to tears, crying out for a perfect ending that you know will never going to come. This is a heartbreaking, deeply moving romance about pain, reality and what it truly means to love someone.
Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are a couple who take a journey in their motorhome across the countryside, visiting family and places from their past. Tusker has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, and it becomes increasingly clear to both that his condition is getting worse. Their love for one another strains under the growing lack of control they both experience, while Sam struggles to accept that Tusker’s state of mind is deteriorating. It’s not long before an upsetting revelation almost turns the strength of their bond against them.
It appropriate that one of Sam and Tusker’s shared hobbies is searching for constellations in the night sky, because Firth and Tucci are a match made in heaven. With a mere look or the brushing of hands, they effectively telegraph just how deeply and passionately they love one another. It makes what comes next all the harder to bear, as the pair come crashing down to earth. While the two actors are near the same age, Sam looks noticeably older, the weight of being both partner and carer becoming heavier as the story progresses. Yet he insists it is a weight he chooses to carry out of love. Supernova succeeds because of how authentic, realistic and extraordinarily moving the central relationship is.
Macqueen captures Sam and Tusker’s relationship at its most intimate, but also at its most mundane – a bed-hogging argument that sees Sam fall onto the floor is one of several snapshots of everyday domesticity offering welcome comic relief. The heartache comes not only in Macqueen’s portrayal of familiar experiences, but also in those events that couples hope will never come to pass. Their lively bickering cannot drown out the tension caused by their avoidance of certain conversations. Macqueen confronts mortality and illness in a way that is blessed with empathy, questioning big themes without losing sight of the individual lives at their core.
Exactly how well it answers these questions is up for discussion, but it certainly feels comparable to the likes of Still Alice and Amour in its quietly relentless struggle for honesty. The only frustrating element is the characterisation of extended family members, whose sole purpose seem to be to act as sounding boards for Sam and Tusker or to be sources of exposition. Regardless, there is so much to love about Supernova, as much an upsetting exploration of mortality as it is an uplifting reminder of how strong love can be. Firth and Tucci are utterly exquisite in a drama that will leave you reaching for tissues and for the ones you hold dear.
Supernova releases November 20th.