Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are driving out to the lake district in their caravan. Sam has a piano concert at the end of the journey, his first in many years. They are charming together and seem to be enjoying the trip, but there’s something uneasy in the air. There’s a sense of finality to this trip. It is revealed that Tusker is experiencing the early stages of dementia and is already having episodes. The two men reunite with family and celebrate their lives whilst fearing for their future.
One of the most striking elements of the film is the way in which it portrays scale. The two men are cramped into their caravan and sometimes only both visible in frame due to placement of mirrors. They also occupy a bed that is two small for the two men. They are almost trapped together but the easy nature of their relationship doesn’t make this space claustrophobic. The effect is to put their experience into context. We frequently see their little van contrasted against awe inspiring landscapes of the lake district. Dick Pope’s cinematography dwarfs the two men with the sublime environment around them.
A supernova is a star that has died and is now throwing carbon into the cosmos. Some of that carbon is utilised in the formation and development of our bodies. Tusker explains this to a somewhat confused young girl at the family reunion. The significance is to put Tusker’s life into the context of the life cycle of celestial entities. The tight framing establishes just how important they are to the other, but the immense indifferent space in which this drama unfolds reminds us that this story is a small part of every story.
Yet this is an intimidate story. The film effectively communicates that these two men are everything together. The naturalistic and easy dialogue paired with absolutely perfect performances from Firth and Tucci. The two men feel fully formed and with an established and complex history, all without contrivance. The affection between them and the bristling when they provoke each other is beautiful to behold. They are self-effacing, quietly sad and undoubtedly in love with each other. They form one of the great cinematic old couples.
The film portrays a couple in the early stages of dementia, portraying only a few of the devastating events that await anyone who experiences the condition. However the frightening future is realised in terrible detail. Tusker eloquently describes the situation that awaits him. He will soon start to forget people and some time after that will “forget who is doing the forgetting”. The film reaches a conclusion which will prove controversial. It’s an ending that feels right for these characters, but as an analogy for the general experience of dementia and mental health issues in general it is reinforcing a very old and unfortunate narrative conclusion.
Supernova is a film about the end of a life. It’s about putting things in order and valuing a shared life. It’s a film about legacy and fear and the value of beauty and peace in a life destined to return to the void from which it came. This is a beautifully told story of two souls who have crafted a small world together using share memories, and the devastation that awaits this world when one of it’s stars is no longer able to provide light.