The hotshot movie stars can sometimes get away with making one or two movies a year with their high paydays. Most working actors need to pound the pavement constantly, so to take two years off to make ones' directorial debut is a huge decision. Sarah Polley did just that and made Away From Her.
Sarah Polley Directs Away from Her
"I think it's scary because you do have to put a certain amount of energy and work into an acting career to keep it going so yeah, two years is a long time to not be acting if you want to be an actor," said Polley. "But I have this very optimistic fantasy that I'll somehow be able to juggle both and do both equally and I think I'll just see how it works out and. I don't think I can know at this point."
Away From Her is the film version of Alice Munro's short story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." In it, a man must leave his wife in a home for Alzheimer's patients for 30 days before he can visit, and when he returns, she seems to have forgotten him completely.
"I encouraged them to read the Munro story and I think in some cases it's not good for people to read the source material but in this case I really wanted to remain as true as I possibly could to this story so it was important for me that they read it. And just the time I spent in my grandmother's retirement home for three and a half years was really informative. As well as the great books I read on Alzheimer's disease. I think two of the best books I've ever read in my life are The Forgetting by David Shenk and Hard to Forget by Charles Pierce. Those are two of the most interesting books I've read period, let alone being really amazing to research."
Away from Her
Caring husband Grant isn't simply a doting caretaker. He may be working off some guilt over his mistakes, and even those are toned down from the short story. "That's the difficult choice to make because it's like what I love about Alice Munro's writing is people aren't just sympathetic. She does have a certain kind of piercing cruelty into who they are. There were certain kinds of ambiguity within the short story that I felt would be very difficult for an audience to register without hearing those interior monologues that you get in the story. So that was the choice that I made based on that."
It may seem like unusual material to attract a 20-something woman, but the short story reflected Polley's feelings about the elderly in her life. "I think it was just such an interesting examination of unconditional love. Oddly, even more than a love story, I felt like it was like a coming of age story about a man in his '70s. Someone discovering themselves and what they were capable of and what unconditional love meant at the end of their marriage. I thought that was so interesting, and the fact that these characters were so incredibly nuanced and specific and funny and intelligent and I just kind of fell in love with them all."
If the end of The Notebook was brutal for everyone, let alone anyone who's taken care of an Alzheimer's patient, a whole movie about it could be devastating. "That's been a really interesting part of this process for me, to realize how personally some people connect to it through Alzheimer's disease and it's also been a real education in how prevalent the disease is to see that almost everybody that sees the film has some relationship to having dealt with this disease. I think ultimately the reaction has been okay even from people who have gone through that because I do think that more than anything, it's a portrait of a marriage. Alzheimer's disease is a very important part of it but I think it's more of a metaphor for memory and the trajectory of their relationship than anything else."
Away from Her opens to theatres this Friday, May 4th.