Landscapes move in slow time in Harry Macqueen’s Supernova, but it’s always Autumn. It’s always that last glimmer of warmth reflecting off the water’s edge before the seasons change.
Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are taking one last journey together, visiting family and taking in the Scottish landscape. The leisurely pacing is a sleight of hand, as we come to discover that Tusker has early-onset dementia.
The road trip disconnects them from any assumptions we might layer over their lives, but they have a comfortable, upper-middle-class lifestyle that affords them privileges, but unfortunately not resolves, from a disease that affects at least 42,325 in the UK alone.
Tusker is a successful writer and in another movie, this would have been an excuse to explore the loss of creativity, in Supernova it’s used to demonstrate the loss of a couple’s chance to celebrate each other’s lives. Or to while away time sharing thoughts about the day’s work. Sam is reading one of Tusker’s novels and the scene plays out as though it’s the first time he’s ever encountered the work. There’s that aspect fo the film that suggests these are the moments, in the final months, when you really take a look at someone you love, like it’s the first time. Trying to stare so hard that the eye still retains the after image for the longest time.
When Tusker sits in the garden after a gathering of family and friends, talking to Sam’s goddaughter, he tells her that every particle of her body once belonged to a star, and each particle is from a different star. It’s an attempt to remind us that, even when we’re gone, the things that follow have a mote of our essence in them.
The soundtrack by Keaton Henson ebbs and flows beautifully with the long lingering shots of the Scottish landscape, working in counter-balance to the near stillness of cinematographer Dick Pope’s beautiful lingering shots.
While in other hands, the landscape and the soundtrack could have been heavy-handed foreshadowing, here it feels like a gently laid palette of colours that are used to build the central themes from. We’re not being told what to think at every turn in the road, instead the score backs away and allows the occasional scene its own silent space. When Sam goes outside to gaze up at the stars after the couple have argued about a pivotal revelation in the film, everything withdraws and only the stars and Colin Firth remain, laying on the ground, trying to see the stars as Tusker sees them, or searching for his supernova.
Tucci and Firth’s performance makes the most of the understated acting style of both performers. And the generosity and obvious warmth they have for each other ‘outside of work’ allows each to give focus to the other when needed while being present enough to give each other something to work against and the space to bring their character’s internal dilemma to the surface. This works in often subtle ways that aren’t desperate to prove that this is a gay couple.
That this is a film not ‘about a gay couple’ could be read as either a post-queer cinema or gay cinema for straight people. This might as easily be about a close brotherly friendship playing out. A gentle holding and kiss to the back of a hand (seen through the windshield of the camper van) reveals as much about the first moment this couple fell in love as any dialogue does. The film sidesteps gay culture and struggles and I can’t decide if that good because not every film about a gay couple needs to tell that story, or there still needs to be more stories about the experience of gay couples. Or maybe the film is more mainstream than at first appears and Colin Firth is still open to Mr Darcy roles?