Supernova: Giant, Flying Friction Blast, by David Bax
There must be something in the air these days to do with camper vans and characters on the other side of middle age. With Nomadland chalking up all the accolades, now comes Harry Macqueen’s Supernova, a quieter movie that is nonetheless an even more heartbreaking and honest one.
Sam (Colin Firth), a concert pianist, and Tusker (Stanley Tucci), a novelist, are a loving couple of many decades who have decided, after Sam books what may be his final performance before retiring, to take the scenic route, traveling across England in their humble camper, stopping at places where they’ve stored their memories and visiting old friends along the way. The real impetus for this road trip, though, is not the impending close of Sam’s career but Tusker’s dementia, which has advanced to the point where these might well be the last few weeks in which he’s present and lucid more often than not.
Even before we’ve been made privy to the couple’s medical predicament, Macqueen has brought us to the level of this couple’s–and this journey’s–disorienting mix of idyll and dread. We get long shots of the English countryside through the large windshield of Sam and Tusker’s van. The humans are silhouettes and the scenery, though beautiful, comes rushing at us around each bend just a tad too fast while the oncoming traffic whizzes by just a tad too close. It’s not unlike the bravura bus set-piece at the end of Force Majeure.
With Tusker’s reticence to dwell too much on his mind’s ongoing disintegration, Macqueen is–to our great benefit–left to pursue visual metaphors like these for the characters’ present and future. The most powerful and devastating such symbol is Tusker’s notebook in which he’s outlining his next novel. Each page is a little more sparse than the last and the handwriting a little less legible, with far too many empty pages left over at the end.
Supernova‘s warmest scenes come when Sam and Tusker visit their friends. It’s almost a hallmark of movies about LGBTQIA+ characters that their social circles act as de facto families. Here, we see them supported by people who have known them for years and we witness them try to pass on what insights and wisdom they have to the next generation.
Ultimately, of course, no one is as close to Sam or Tusker as they are to one another. In fact, as is the case with only the most fortunate of longtime couples, they are essentially a single unit. That makes it all the more terrifying for them to contemplate the looming disappearance of one half of them. And it’s what leads to Supernova‘s emotionally perplexing central question. Is it possible for either person in such a relationship to make any decision solely for themselves?