Stars speckle the sky to the tune of haunting, melancholy music in the opening credits of “Supernova.” Immediately after, the audience is presented with an endearing image of the two leads, played by screen veterans Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci, cuddled in bed. These two images seem to sum up much of the film itself as it follows the story of Sam and Tusker, a couple that takes a road trip after one of them has been diagnosed with dementia.
The love story succeeds the most with the excellent chemistry between the two leads; their relentless back and forth breathes life into the drier, less visual parts of the film. Throughout the movie, the duo revels in dry, classically British humor. It soon becomes clear that their constant pranks and quips at each other keep their 20-year relationship alive, but they also seem laced with a hint of bitter honesty. This is the weight of Tusker’s diagnosis — it is ever-present, weighing in like a ticking time bomb on their relationship at every given second.
The two decide to embark on a road trip across England to meet Sam’s family, and their journey features the sprawling, cinematic landscapes of the Lake District. The camera hypnotically follows their trailer as they carry along long, winding roads. The scenery is at once large, still and breathtaking, acting as yet another motif of the magnitude of the universe that their story takes place in. Much like the pace of the film, the movement is a slow, slow burn — gradually inching the audience, metaphorically and literally, to the duo’s eventual and predetermined end of the road.
Most notably, “Supernova” makes its bittersweet destination clear from the beginning of the movie. It doesn’t need to rely on suspense or surprise to prove its point. The eventuality is that Tusker’s condition is fast deteriorating: one day, painfully, he himself will “forget who will do the forgetting.”
The film’s exploration of Tusker’s condition brings a streak of existentialist undertones. The film’s connection to the universe at large acts as a reminder of morality and ultimately, human insignificance. The two constantly refer to constellations and sleep facing a chart of celestial bodies on the ceiling. Perhaps it is from their understanding that the universe is much greater and larger than any human consequence that we see their determination to squeeze as much temporal and visceral meaning out of their relationships and respective careers.
Their role as artists — a writer and a pianist — also plays into this idea of everlasting legacy in a world that doesn’t need to remember them. This is a key part of “Supernova”: The film explores these central ideas of remembrance and memory without giving too many answers.
“You just sit there, doing nothing. Propping up the entire world,” Tusker tells Sam. The two don’t need large gestures to communicate their love. Their strength surfaces in the smallest of details: their nonchalance in dealing with both fatally serious and the mind-numbingly inconsequential, the unspoken comfort that lies in their silences and their unstoppable, almost unbearably childish humour that reminds the audience of their everlasting chemistry.
As the film explores Tusker and Sam’s relationship, it is made clear that “Supernova” isn’t trying to upend genres or shatter cinematic/technical glass ceilings. In fact, its tilt away from shock value and a clear climax seems to bring out both the best and the worst of the film.
Each of the potential criticisms of the film are offset by the meticulously crafted center attraction. Do the surrounding characters seem meaningless? Perhaps, but Tusker and Sam outshine their co-stars. Does not enough happen in the plot? Maybe, but their relationship finds beauty in the trivial.
Above all else, the strength of “Supernova” lies in its simplicity. It may not provide as much flair as would expect from a typical romance tested by terminal illness, but it provides an alternative that is slightly more provocative — a realistic, evolved and enduring love.
Contact Megha Ganapathy at [email protected].