Written and Directed by Harry Macqueen, Supernova is a touching, reflective meditation on truth, love and the beginning of losing someone to an illness, in this case dementia, and the internal battle that consumes your very being, on both sides of the relationship. Starring Colin Firth as Sam and Stanley Tucci as Tusker, they’re a comfortable couple of many years, you can feel this by how at ease they are together, with small teasing behaviours, knowing looks and a secure, honest love that pulls you effortlessly into their little world.
Macqueen’s opening shot is that of the nights sky and the occurrence of a supernova, somewhere a billion miles away. It explodes into the deep darkness, creating even more stars than we could see before but it’s slow, deliberate and as beautiful as the glory of space itself. We then turn to watching Sam and Tusker waking up and heading off in their Camper Van to the Lake District for reasons we’ll come to learn.
These purposes come quickly because after a brief roadside café breakfast and shop, Sam can’t find Tusker when he returns to the camper. Speeding off up a nearby lane, he finds him with the dog – that he’d obviously taken for a walk – but with Tusker’s dementia, he doesn’t know where he is, or how he got there. But, here’s the clever shot, Macqueen films is from inside the camper, so it’s framed in the distance and you can read the situation from their actions, it’s absolutely heart-breaking to witness and broke me from this first moment.
While the story at the centre is cloaked in sorrow, there are many moments of warmth and genuine affection. This reality comes down to the performances from Tucci and Firth, who are remarkable. Firth’s Sam is the one trying to stay in control, endeavouring to ignore the truth and pretend this is just a normal holiday but it also becomes evident that his pain of what’s to come is lingering and growing the anguish inside of him. Tucci’s Tusker plays a different role, while the one dealing with the deterioration, he’s also calm and honest to himself over what’s happening, almost most of the time. Tucci portrays graceful calmness in the face of tragedy because he knows that every moment of this trip could be his last memory of what was great, and that those memories may never come again.
Of course, this could sound all very depressing but the smart thing about Supernova is how their situation is never overblown or draped in cliché like many stories in this vein can become. The touching normality is what makes it so compelling, their comedic quips to each other make you laugh, their looks to each other feel genuine and the power of that type of simplicity drifts through the screen and places you in their situation. Macqueen clearly makes a smart choice by allowing his actors to find their world and let it play out.
Alongside this, Keaton Henson provides a subtle, Max Richter-like score that reflects the scenes and it’s captured by cinematographer Dick Pope (also Mike Leigh’s go to DP), who takes in the wet, soggy British outdoors and reminds us of its beauty in any weather. The silence of the landscapes and openness of the world around them isn’t emptiness, but the moors and lakes resemble their isolation from the truth at the centre of it all.
Truth is, if Supernova doesn’t punch you in the heart, at any point, you’ve probably never felt anything for anyone. It tells us that caring for someone can be the greatest thing we can ever do, even when it breaks us and, as expected, Firth and Tucci are packed with magnificent talent, it also broke me, healed me, then broke me and I’d do it all again.