Dir: Harry Macqueen. Starring: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Pippa Haywood, Peter MacQueen, James Dreyfus. Cert 15, 93 mins
In the moving but flawed Supernova, small acts of love act as a prelude to the bigger, more painful ones at the end of the road. Partners Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are driving through the Lake District, headed to the first concert classical pianist Sam intends to give after what appears to have been a long break. Their affections are expressed through gestures, not words – in the way Sam lightly drums his fingers on Tusker’s arm, or how the two men’s bodies fold into each other as they sleep, as if some unseen hand had moulded them to always be a pair.
Tusker has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. He knows there will come a time, sooner rather than later, when he’ll look into Sam’s face and no longer see the man he’s loved for two decades. And, beyond that, he’ll “even forget who’s doing the forgetting”. Inevitability hangs like a pointed sword above these men’s heads.
But life continues as normal, it seems, except for the creeping feeling that all their bickering about satnavs, cooking responsibilities, and sleeping arrangements – plus all the niceties shared during a visit with Sam’s sister (Pippa Haywood) – are but a well-rehearsed play that helps Sam and Tusker avoid confrontation with what lies ahead. Tusker can’t even stand the sight of his medication, one of the few material reminders of his illness.
Firth and Tucci’s performances are remarkable in how delicately they navigate this maze of half-truths and suppressed emotions, all crammed inside their rusty campervan. When the illusion does finally start to shatter, it’s heart-wrenching to watch Firth’s lost puppy dog looks crash up against Tucci’s gentle but steadfast presence. Writer-director Harry Macqueen’s film offers a humble reflection of all the near-impossible conversations and choices faced by families touched by dementia and terminal illness.
But at times, he uses the couple’s paralysing reluctance as an excuse for the film itself to avoid the truly raw and messy parts of their experience. Instead, it remains in the romantic hypothetical. It ends on a promise, but never sticks around to wonder what ramifications that promise might bring. Supernova is beautiful and devastating, but its emotions are also pristine, wreathed by idyllic mountainscapes and the charming comforts of a middle-class holiday. In the end, it too feels like one of the many sentences Sam and Tusker leave hanging, unfinished, in the air.