Supernova is a heartbreaking gay love story about a couple's struggle with dementia

Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth star as a couple who struggle when one of them is diagnosed with dementia.

Two men embrace in bed

A contemplative view of love and mortality, Supernova explores a couple’s reaction to a terminal situation. While the film sometimes feels reluctant to face its subject matter head-on, it’s brought to life beautifully by the performances of its two leads.

The film follows famed pianist Sam (Colin Firth) and author Tusker (Stanley Tucci) as they take a road trip across England for a concert that Tusker has convinced Sam to perform in. They meet friends and family at a stop along the way, but the film is primarily focused on their relationship, and how it’s coming to an inevitable conclusion as Tusker has been diagnosed with dementia. 

It’s unusual to see older queer people take the spotlight, and while it’s a slight disappointment that neither actor publicly identifies as LGBTQ, their connection allows the film’s romanticism to shine through. From an opening shot of the two naked and entwined in bed onwards, Tucci and Firth embody a couple that has been together for a long time and know each other inside and out. Early on their trip, there’s a discussion about whether to use a map or GPS to navigate. Tusker pushes all of Sam’s buttons, but knows how to do so without causing aggravation. It’s a smart and poignant way of breathing life into the two men, whose sense of play and boldness is matched by their care for each other. 

It’s also smart that Supernova derives it’s emotional resonance from this relationship dynamic: as the effects of the dementia have begun to take hold over Tusker, both are grappling with what their lives look like, what is coming down the line, and how to handle the changes. Tusker is determined to live life to the full for as long as he can, and to not be a burden for Sam. His inability to deliver a speech to his family, however, reveals that the impact of the illness is not lost on him (Sam takes up the speaking duties in a very moving scene, ably performed by both). Sam has decided it his responsibility to care for Tusker as best he can, and wants to show his love by looking after Tusker. 

Both are motivated by their care for each other, but their decidedly opposing reactions to their situation are the fuel for the tension that builds between them as they realise they will have to confront each other’s wishes head-on. While Sam sees this as the next stage of their relationship, Tusker believes it to be the end and does not want to become a responsibility that Sam feels the need to fulfil. Both are so convinced in their approach that it is not until each has set the wheels in motion for their respective plans that they actually begin to face the other’s desires.

It’s important to note that this isn’t a film about dementia: while some of Tusker’s symptoms show, Supernova is far more concerned with the relationship between the two men. For anyone who has experienced a loved one with a similar condition, the questions the film poses will be all too familiar. How do you comprehend and work through the struggle of knowing that the end of your relationship with this person is coming?

Despite the heaviness of the subject matter, Supernova is not all doom and gloom. It moves slowly, luxuriating in the Lake District countryside the men travel through, and it delights in showing the jokes and pranks between the couple that exposes the depth of their connection. The camerawork is intimate, and takes in all that Tucci and Firth have to give in the roles, and both give sweet and moving performances with heartfelt chemistry. The dialogue is a little hit and miss, particularly towards the end as the fissures between their decisions become exposed, but not to the extent that they feel artificial.

Supernova is a meditation on mortality and the difficulty in facing it both for yourself and those close to you, but it is also a celebration of the dedication and love that comes from those people. It’s earnestness in balancing both aspects while restraining itself from caricaturing the men or their situation makes it a sweet, if slightly solemn, watch, and worthy of your time.

Supernova opens in cinemas across the country today.

Check out more queer films coming your way in 2021.

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