One of the . . . well, one might call them “benefits,” but at other times it is a scourge, but with the torrent of theatrical releases slowed to a trickle we are seeing a lot of independent films in theaters. They are the kinds of movies that would typically get brushed aside by those with bigger budgets, or, more specifically, more money to spend on advertising. Case in point: I did not see an ad anywhere for Supernova (2020), was not even aware of its existence, until I pulled up to the theater on Saturday evening to renew my weekly tradition. It was the only thing playing that was new and had not been reviewed by The Legionnaire. And as I feel duty-bound to bring you at least one new release per week, on I went into the theater.
Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) travel around the countryside of the United Kingdom in Supernova on a road trip in their recreational vehicle. That is kind of it. . . . Oh yeah, they are married to each other and Tusker has been battling dementia. I guess they needed something else to spice up the story other than two dudes in a camper in Britain. After a seemingly protracted struggle with a disease getting progressively worse, they decide to take this trip together, one that they had apparently made a number of times in the past. No flashbacks to flesh this out, just talking. Yawn. You see the dangers Tusker’s condition brings when he wanders off as they make a stop along their route, and Sam has to go searching for him. He is eventually found, confused as to how he arrived in this remote location. At any rate, they make it to their first destination, a picturesque lakeside locale where that night Tusker shows Sam the title astral body. Next they travel to Sam’s childhood home where his family has a party for the two of them. Their Tusker explains to his . . . niece? They never make it explicit who this person is or even what her name is, but it is a little girl anyway. He tells her how when a star dies bits of it are thrown in all directions into the galaxy, and that we carry pieces of those explosions within us. Metaphor, check. At this party, Tusker has Sam read a letter about Tusker’s condition and how he will soon no longer recognize them, but thanking them for all the love they have shown him. It is too much for Sam to handle at the moment, and eventually he retreats from the party to their camper. There he discovers the true reason for Sam wanting to come out to the middle of nowhere, which was ostensibly for Sam to renew his career as a musician. Tusker plans to commit suicide. The day after the party, they head to a house that has all the cheer of Withering Heights (to be fair, it looks cozy, but its setting would have inspired Emily Brontë). It is here that Sam confronts Tusker about his plan, raging against his lover that he cannot bear the thought of losing him. To his credit, Sam makes clear his willingness to care for Tusker’s growing infirmities. Sam has made up his mind, however, and his defense is the age old one of people in similar circumstances: he does not want to be a burden, making Sam take care of him would be unfair, losing his faculties is abhorrent, etc. Somehow, Tusker convinces Sam of the supposed rightness of the decision to die prematurely. Thus the end scene where Sam is playing Tusker’s favorite song at the concert is meant to be sentimental.
Supernova is not a bad movie because it is about a gay couple. Sure, the Catholic Church does not condone homosexuality. If you want a less theologically worded defense of this position, check out Theology of the Body. Sexuality and creation go hand-in-hand, and it makes the points about heterosexuality far more eloquently than me. Sexual choices aside, I actually think any couple can learn a thing or two about affection from this movie. No, this is an awful film for two reasons: first, for a movie with a road trip as a backdrop, it never gets anywhere until nearly the end; secondly, because it essentially condones suicide. Pacing can be a matter of taste, and I prefer one that moves along a little more briskly. What I cannot support is Tusker’s decision to end his life. Yes, this is me as a Catholic saying this, and it is part of Catholicism’s pro-life stance. Being pro-life is not solely about being against abortion. The Church also sees execution and anything else that cuts life short before it would end due to natural causes as wrong. I suppose it goes without saying that characters like Tusker and Sam would see things differently, but our lives are not our own. Additionally, our time on this earth is a fleeting gift, and it has value no matter what condition you are in. That has been the view of the Church from the start, and it has cared for those who cannot care for themselves for centuries. Interestingly, the film addresses the idea of Sam putting Tusker in some facility, where they would occasionally visit despite one not knowing the other. It paints this scenario as bleak, as if showing such devotion was a character flaw or something that normal people should not want to do. The desire to continue to have a person with dementia in ones life in some form demonstrates a love that is approaching divine. Anytime you can do that, you are doing something right.
I sat in the theater, alone (I mean, I was the only one there), and was ready for Supernova to be over within the first fifteen minutes. Luckily it is a tad under an hour and a half, though I still managed to download a chess app in the middle of it and play a match. This was during the party scene. Hey, I could still hear it! There are a few scenes of Sam and Tusker in bed with each other, and one that suggests that they had sex with Sam’s naked profile spooning Tusker’s covered form. There is also a scene towards the end, after Tusker’s plan has been fully revealed and accepted, where they make love. It has the air of desperation. It is dark, though, and you cannot really see anything, making it sort of an autonomous sensory meridian response (be honest, how many of you know that is what ASMR stood for) session, which somehow makes it even more uncomfortable. Look, they are dealing with some weighty issues, and I have never enjoyed arguing (which they did a lot of before this scene), but throw in the sounds of sobs and kissing and it was a little grating. Critics will laud the performances. Fine. But it does not get The Legionnaire‘s recommendation because it is slow and seems to make suicide acceptable.