“Away From Her,” a moving look at long-term marriage, is remarkable not only for its stellar performances from Olympia Dukakis, Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent, but from the fact that 28 year-old newlywed director Sarah Polley penned such an incredibly insightful script.
Based on an Alice Munro short story, it served as a way, Dukakis says, for Polley to work through what it is like to live with and love somebody for the rest of your life.
“It’s all there. All those contradictions that we feel in our lives. Punishment is there, there’s great companionship there. … It’s so truthful.”
As Marian, the bitter wife of an Alzheimer’s-suffering man who has fallen in love with another woman, Dukakis displays a complex spectrum of emotions, from the desperate loneliness of a full-time caregiver, to the tenacity of a determined and devoted wife, to the heartbreaking vulnerability of an isolated woman.
“She starts off with a lot of disappointment and a lot of cynicism. Her heart is closed,” Dukakis says of her character. “Then she meets Grant (Pinsent). Something clicks and she does something that I think is the turning point in the movie; she makes the decision to be happy. She’s going to take the happiness that comes to her and not sit in judgment.”
Dukakis worked with Polley as an actress in the 2003 film “The Event,” when Polley was planning her career as a director. When “Away From Her” landed at Dukakis’ door, she was immediately engaged, but it wasn’t until page 10 that she realized that it was her young acquaintance who wrote this perceptive, wise-beyond-her-years movie.
What Polley didn’t know was that the film had very personal connotations to Dukakis as well. Dukakis’ mother suffered from Alzheimer’s. As a caregiver for someone with the disease, Dukakis says at times you feel an outpouring of love and an opportunity to give back, and other times you feel very selfish and very put upon.
“I don’t talk about it much. I only talked about it within the community at the time.”
The fact that the movie reflects all this and more while striking a chord with critics and audiences means a great deal to Dukakis.
“It should be noticed because of the material and the way it was done,” she says. “That we didn’t fail it is an important thing.”
Favorite film: “Favorite is not the best film I ever saw. Favorite has more to do with the time that I saw it, the age I was and the way it was able to challenge my life in some way. Those are the films that I remember the most.”
Young actor you admire: “Cate Blanchett is one. I think Johnny Depp is a terrific character actor. Christian Bale has become a terrific actor.”
What you want in a director: “In the end, it’s the script, what it’s about and how I fit into that.”
Vice: “A vice is something you wouldn’t want to keep doing or wouldn’t necessarily want to tell a journalist about. I can’t even think of life — at my age — that way.”