Supernova opens over black – or so it seems. The blackness, we come to realise, is not complete. This is the night sky. There are a pinpricks of light, stars, which seem to multiply.
One flares suddenly and vanishes. A small part of the cosmos, gone forever.
In that it also stars Colin Firth, Harry MacQueen’s Supernova feels like a spiritual successor to Tom Ford’s A Single Man, though it documents a different type of tragedy; replacing the period chic and ennui of the earlier film, a story of a college professor dealing with grief, with a British restraint and domesticity, what comes before the separation.
Colin Firth, bearded and rumpled, plays Sam, longterm partner to the perpetually bemused Tusker (Stanley Tucci). Tusker has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. So the two have set off on a road trip in an old camper van, planning to visit Sam’s family up north en route to a concert. They bicker, more out of force of habit than any cause.
Stopping at a service station diner, Tusker plays up Sam’s semi-celebrity status – apparently he was once a musician of some note – embarrassing both him and the likely confused server.
All this seems a matter-of-course, till Tusker vanishes. Sam finds him at the end of a country lane, confused and wandering. When Sam gets out of the camper to comfort him, MacQueen’s camera keeps us firmly in the passenger seat. We only see their rapprochement.
The early scenes keeps us at an emotional distance, resolutely unsentimental. The word “dementia” is only said once by Tusker in a mocking, ironic tone – his quiet pragmatism runs counter to Sam’s increasingly dogged insistence that “We’re not there yet”.
A scene in which the two men hold their heads in separate rooms feels emblematic for the film as a whole; gently affecting, but somehow disconnected. Their ease together is evident – the film opens on the two, hands clasped, spooning in bed together – and their mutual dependency – Firth and Tucci invest their characters with too much pathos – but MacQueen’s screenplay never deepens their relationship.
Keaton Henson’s gently insistent piano score, layered over heathery hillsides, rugged scree slopes, and valleys wreathed in mist, is evocative, but Supernova never achieves the richness and specificity that would balance the universality its opening hints at.
Supernova touches on love and loss, but even at its most heightened, the film is too diffuse to be truly impactful.