A sober depiction of the twilight days of a couple struggling with dementia and fading life choices. The film subverts audience expectations and LGBTQ+ tropes to forge a more inclusive path.
LGBTQ+ cinema is still relatively new to the mainstream and as a result still suffers from simplistic depictions. Directors unfortunately often rely on three tropes that aim to capture the experience of LGBTQ+ people:
- The overwrought Greek tragedy in the mould of Boys Don’t Cry (1999,) which depicts LGBTQ+ people as perpetual victims of circumstance and their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- The “fetishist” viewpoint which views gay men and lesbians as pseudo-nymphomaniacs, in which the film must contain staggeringly explicit detail such as Call Me by Your Name (2017).
- A “spectacle” which depicts LGBTQ+ characters as loud and proud, but with embarrassingly little character depth outside of their sexual orientation, à la Alex Strangelove (2018).
As a gay man, the film Supernova about Tusker (Stanley Tucci) and Sam (Colin Firth) sparked a pre-viewing debate. The overriding question being whether the director Harry Macqueen would seek to exploit both actors’ proven emotional depth to make an overwrought modern tragedy. Or, alternatively, if he would use Colin Firth’s well-documented sex appeal to create a fetishist view of a male homosexual relationship.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Supernova as an encouraging sign that perhaps these tropes are on their way out. Supernova provides a captivating character study of a relationship in its twilight. Off screen, Tusker has received news that he has dementia and thus his time on the mortal plane is fleeting. In response, the couple decide to take a road trip to the Lake District, spending time at Sam’s sister’s house in addition to a charming camping spot near a lake off the beaten track.
From the outset, Macqueen reminds the audience that they are clearly very late to the party. The couple have matured, lived their lives and achieved recognition in their chosen professions; Tusker is a writer struggling through writer’s block, and Sam is preparing for a small piano concert. Both characters consistently make allusions to events that occurred in the past, and to happier times. They handle mortality in very different ways, but each seeks to be as humane and as compassionate to their partner as possible. It is clear to the audience that their actions are animated by love and respect for each other; however, this is slightly undercut by the lack of explicit exposition, and by the audience joining the narrative so late in their relationship.
As the story develops, the audience is confronted with the nature of love and how the ghost of mortality can affect a relationship. Supernova remains remarkably grounded despite fertile opportunities for melodrama, with a potent cinematic cocktail of an LGBTQ+ couple, dementia, and a road trip. Throughout the film, Macqueen remains cognisant of the issues he is confronting and events remain realistic. Tucci and Firth deliver performances that are packed with emotional weight. Their efforts elevate typical scenes like an evening toast into a shattering baring of souls. The ending bows out with a humble performance of Salut d’amour by Firth that will leave audience members with the eternal truth that “It’s not fair, it is love”.
In short, Supernova provides an excellent blueprint for LGBTQ+ films in which harmful tropes are transcended effortlessly and sexual orientation is integrated seamlessly. Tucci and Firth deliver honest and sobering depictions of grief that any audience member can empathise with. Unfortunately, considerable filling-in of the blanks remains up to the audience, and the plot relies on an unusual level of deductive skill that distracts the audience from the film’s subject matter.
3.5 Pelicans out of 5.
Supernova shows Monday 25 – Sunday 31 January at Somerville Auditorium.
Words by Charles Fedor.
Image courtesy of Perth Festival.