Friday, June 11, 2021

‘Supernova’ debates holding on vs. letting go

“Supernova” (2020 production, 2021 release). Cast: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Pippa Haywood, Peter MacQueen, Nina Marlin, Ian Drysdale, Sarah Woodward, James Dreyfus. Director: Harry Macqueen. Screenplay: Harry Macqueen. Web site. Trailer.

Knowing when to hold on and when to let go can be a frustrating, anxiety-ridden exercise, especially under highly charged conditions. The feelings involved might even leave us emotionally paralyzed, unable to make a decision in either direction, simply because we’re left overwhelmed and locked in place. But doing nothing is not a viable option, either; decisions have to be made to address what we’re up against. So it is in the affecting romantic drama, “Supernova.”

Longtime gay couple Sam (Colin Firth), an accomplished English concert pianist, and Tusker (Stanley Tucci), a transplanted American novelist, have led a happy and fulfilling life together in the UK.  In many ways, the partners have lived a storybook existence replete with material comfort, professional success and personal satisfaction. And, as they enter their sunset years, they look forward to more contented times together in retirement. But life, it seems, has other plans for them.

When Tusker begins experiencing memory-related issues, a visit to the doctor confirms the couple’s worst fears – he’s suffering from the onset of dementia. Although he appears to be in reasonably good control of his faculties, looks can be deceiving. He soon comes to realize that his old astute self is beginning to slip away and at a quickly accelerating rate, circumstances that trouble him deeply. For instance, when he experiences difficulty in tasks as simple as donning and buttoning a shirt, he grows worried that his ability to care for himself – and even to recognize what that entails – is disappearing far faster than he ever would have imagined.

But Tusker is not the only one who is worried; Sam is profoundly concerned that the love of his life is vanishing before his eyes. He vows to do whatever it takes to provide proper care and support to his life partner, though, admittedly, that commitment is somewhat rooted in denial and wishful thinking. The effort becomes increasingly arduous for him, both in terms of the caregiving requirements and the need to willingly set aside his own interests, such as continuing to give public performances. And that, in turn, further troubles Tusker; as the recipient of such devoted assistance, he can’t bear to see his beloved make such a significant sacrifice, believing it to be a noble though futile exercise given the future that he knows lies ahead.

To help alleviate the difficulties associated with their circumstances, Sam and Tusker embark on a road trip in their aging recreational vehicle to tour the English lake country. Their excursion takes them back to some of their favorite old haunts, giving them a chance to relive fond memories and to partake in cherished pursuits, such as star gazing. The trip also includes a stop at Sam’s childhood home, which is now under the care of his sister, Lilly (Pippa Haywood), her husband, Clive (Peter MacQueen), and their daughter, Charlotte (Nina Marlin). The visit to the family homestead provides an opportunity to spend time with friends and relatives and serves as a stopover on their way to an intimate recital engagement that Sam considers to be his farewell performance.

The trip ostensibly seems like a pleasant enough diversion, an opportunity for Sam and Tusker to share warm, loving times and to reflect on their relationship and life together. However, the journey is not without its share of tension as well. For example, there’s always the possibility that Tusker may inexplicably wander off and become lost, unwittingly subjecting himself to the untamed conditions of the English wilderness. And then there are some heated discussions between the partners about the handling of their current crisis, most of which emerge during the recording of taped conversations aimed at chronicling the progression of Tusker’s condition.

As their trip unfolds, the viewpoints of each partner become ever more polarized. Sam digs in, committing himself to a course of action that will become increasingly demanding and stressful; his love for his partner governs his convictions, no matter how difficult their fulfillment will inevitably become. Tusker, meanwhile, does all he can to try to spare Sam’s feelings, to keep him from pursuing a path that he knows will be emotionally draining and physically exacting, all in the name of an unavoidable eventuality that could very well leave him a broken man with little hope for the future. What’s more, Tusker has little interest in biding his time waiting for that scenario to play out, especially if it’s going to leave him in a depleted state, one far removed from the vibrant and vital individual he used to be.

This seemingly irreconcilable conflict increasingly intrudes on what is supposed to be a happy time together. But, as the stalemate escalates, circumstances take an unexpected turn, one that threatens to worsen conditions further, perhaps even to the point of jeopardizing whatever remaining future the relationship might have. How will that unfold? That’s what Sam and Tusker will have to find out for themselves.

The onset of an ordeal like a health crisis is never easy. Such situations leave us wondering why they happen and, even more puzzling, how to respond to them. They often represent a disruption to the routine and circumstances we’ve long known and grown accustomed to, throwing us into uncomfortable uncertainty. And they leave us wondering how to proceed into an unclear future.

So it is for Sam and Tusker. They’re at a point where they need to decide what to do, a time of choosing where the answers are far from easy or obvious. To search for resolution in a scenario like this, they must examine their beliefs, for those thoughts, feelings and intents will shape what unfolds. Such is what results from the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains our reality emerges from these intangible roots.

Keeping sight of the foregoing notion is crucial in a situation like this, given the gravity of the circumstances and the emotionally charged nature of the beliefs involved. But devising solutions is frequently difficult because of the overpowering degree of the feelings involved. In fact, they may be so powerful that we can’t readily identify or sort out our beliefs, leaving us unable to make clearly defined decisions. Our power of choice is indeed one of our most precious birthrights, but, when it becomes compromised by considerations that significantly hinder our ability to make effective use of it, we may find ourselves foundering in murky manifestation waters. This can leave us without direction at a time when it’s needed most.

The uncertainty that Sam and Tusker face affects them in multiple ways. For starters, there’s the uncertainty associated with the progression of Tusker’s illness: How will it unfold? What time table is involved? What effects will he experience, and how will they impact his day-to-day existence and his relationship with Sam? Then there’s the uncertainty that Tusker will face as he sees himself slip away, losing sight of the person he had been and the radically changed individual he will become: How will he be able to cope with that? What effects will that have on his awareness of the person who he becomes? And what will that do to him emotionally, intellectually and physically? Finally, there’s the uncertainty regarding the future of their relationship: What will become of it? How will it affect each partner? And, in particular, what impact will this scenario have on Sam as the likely survivor? What kind of future will he have without his partner, and will he be able to carry on by himself in all of the various aspects of his life?

Despite the many uncertainties they face, there are some identifiable considerations that Sam and Tusker must bring themselves to face. Most important among them is the question of knowing when to hold on and when to let go, as the progression of Tusker’s illness will inevitably force a resolution to it. The question becomes, how do the partners want to address it? Ultimately there are numerous options here, but which one will they mutually agree upon as being acceptable?

At the film’s outset, Sam wants to do everything he can for his partner, no matter how difficult it may be. Tusker, meanwhile, is reluctant to put his significant other through something so draining and demanding and to put himself through such a deteriorating ordeal. And, as noted previously, that’s essentially a stalemate – not the kind of stressful circumstance that a couple might want to put themselves through at a time when the number of their days together appears to be dwindling. So what’s the next step?

This is where the question of holding on or letting go becomes especially relevant. Both partners must take a hard look at their beliefs about what they want for themselves both individually and collectively. What will work best for them all around? Again, there are many options to choose from, and they must not be afraid to exercise that power of choice, no matter how difficult it may be.

Considering how events are unfolding, it’s certainly difficult to make elaborate plans for the future, especially since it’s highly uncertain how matters will play out. This is where Sam’s wishful thinking needs to be addressed. His hopes that life will somehow continue on as he and Tusker have always known it reflect the role that denial plays in his beliefs, an unrealistic outlook given what he’s up against. He needs to realize, understand and accept the direction in which circumstances are headed and make adjustments in his beliefs as necessary. But will he?

One way in which both Sam and Tusker could make things easier on themselves is to focus on what’s going on in the present moment, for that is the true point of power. Just as we cannot control a past that has come and gone, neither can we control a future that has yet to arrive. However, in the present, we can direct how we want our existence to materialize through the power of our beliefs, and that may be what matters most, especially in charged situations like these.

This is important when loved ones can see that their remaining time together is growing short. One would think that they’d like to make the most of it, savoring the moments over which they’re able to have direct control in how it unfolds. Those moments can thus end up being some of the most memorable and cherished times together, especially since they’re the ones on which they can have immediate impact. The blessings that emerge in these precious interludes should be given top priority, without regard for what may or may not result in the time to follow.

Of course, this is not to suggest that we should ignore the future either. Sam needs to give some thought to what he’d like to do when he’s by himself, even if only in terms of general principles. Given the sorrow he feels over Tusker’s deterioration, it would appear that he’s already making plans to shut himself down when he’s on his own, as evidenced by his declaration that his upcoming recital will be his farewell performance. Those feelings are certainly understandable, but are they realistic? After all, Sam appears to be in reasonably good health and could well have many years yet ahead of him, and reclusive isolation doesn’t seem to be a worthy option. Even Tusker is troubled by this outlook; he loves Sam’s musical virtuosity and is saddened by the prospect of his partner giving it up for good just because of a loved one’s death.

In light of that, then, Sam must be careful about the groundwork he puts into place while Tusker is still alive. There’s no reason for him to give up on living just because of his partner’s passing. That, of course, depends on what Sam starts to do now. And that, in turn, depends on what both he and Tusker do now as well, since those plans and actions will govern what plays out over time. We can only hope that they make the right choices and employ their beliefs judiciously.

The storyline in this film is, admittedly, a somewhat tried and true formula, though it has some new life infused into it here with its same-sex couple protagonists and its gorgeously filmed road trip backdrop. To be sure, the film’s heartwarming and heartbreaking narrative feels a bit too restrained at times and somewhat stretched out in the final act, but it always comes across as sincere and eminently moving. What stands out most, though, are the stellar performances of Firth and Tucci, who deliver magnificent portrayals and exhibit a remarkable, heartfelt, amazingly genuine chemistry throughout. It’s also refreshing to see a gay-themed film that addresses the kinds of everyday issues that the rest of the world deals with and not just relying on storylines drawn from a handful of familiar subjects that have been endlessly overdone. “Supernova” may not be everything that it could have been, but it certainly is an engaging, heart string-tugging offering that’s well worth the time.

The film had been considered a strong contender at the start of the 2020 movie awards season, but it never lived up to expectations, capturing honors and nominations only at a few film festivals. Its theatrical release date was also delayed due to the COVID-related closure of moviehouses last fall. However, it did have a brief theatrical release earlier this year, followed by an aggressive online streaming program on multiple platforms, where the film can be found currently.

When a star reaches the end of its life, it frequently flares up and goes out in a brilliant blaze of glory known as a supernova before being extinguished forever. A similar analogy can be made for how many of us exit the physical plane, metaphorically mimicking the demise of those solar orbs. In many ways, it’s a fitting conclusion given that we’re essentially made up of elements that originated in those celestial bodies. However, unlike those blazing globes of light that seem to so freely and naturally enter into their end stages, we may not be as acutely aware of when our time has come, which can make our transition difficult. Yet, if we’re willing to tap into our consciousness and examine the beliefs that are directing the course of our events, we, too, may be able to follow the examples set in the heavens and go out in our own blazes of glory. And what a brilliant sight that would be.

Copyright © 2021, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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