We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

"The Bear Came Over the Mountain" to _Away from Her_: How Critique Became Justification · 28 May 07

Dear Marianne,

Yesterday afternoon I went to see Sarah Polley’s film, Away from Her, an adaptation of Alice Munro’s short story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”. I was so absorbed & engaged by the film that when I came home I read the story which is online (it was originally published by The New Yorker in its single issue for Dec 27, 1999 and Jan 3, 200). As I read, I was startled to discover that Munro’s text showed how the lifelong sexually promiscuous behavior of a husband who was also a respected professor at a university had so undermined and hurt his wife who was dependent on him for support and her self-esteem that she took her mental deterioration (loss of memory) as an opportunity to leave him and revenge and reassert herself. Sarah Polley’s film turned this matter into the story of a husband unable to cope with the loss of his wife to the point that his devotion led him to provide her with whatever she wanted in the home she inexplicably escaped to (including a mentally and physically incompetent man) in order to make her show her permanent love and need for him.

While watching the film I had been disquieted by people in the audience who laughed at the film at moments they were not supposed to, and laughed hard when the laughter was intended to be at most light. Since just about all the audience members I saw were old, it was not young people laughing at old people. The advertisements for the film have associated the story with Alzheimer’s Disease so young people are staying away in droves as this is considered depressing matter they need not know about as yet. Let me begin here.

Alice Munro’s narrative text is not about Alzheimer’s Disease, nor is Polley’s film story. Munro never uses the word; the physician or supervisor in the film, Madeleine (played as unbreakably cheerful & determined to control the patients in the most cost-effective convenient way possible by Wendy Crewson) does use the word, but then she would. She’s very strong on scientific explanations, on what we can practically diagnose effectively, which she then undercuts (wisely, as of course she would) by saying much is ambiguous and we don’t know a lot, and people differ a lot in deterioration so we must decide what to do for each aging or ill person on a case-by-case basis.

I’ll provide a situational summary for those who don’t know Munro’s text narrative or Polley’s film story. In both, a man in his early 70s, Grant (played by Gordon Pinsent), a professor who retired from teaching some 20 years ago, and 70 year old wife, Fiona (played by Julie Christie), a woman who has not worked for money since she married, live together in a lovely wooden cabin in Ontario (Thunder Bay? I don’t know Canada so can’t tell if they are near Toronto or Ottowa or a biggish town? They appear to be very close, are still physically loving, emotionally dependent on one another: they eat, converse, read, and do things they enjoy together (like cross-country skiiing).

Fiona’s memory has been deteriorating and is getting worse, though by no means is she unable to care for herself and she remembers what she needs to know most of the time. However, she seems to want to go into a retirement home now; that is, before she must, while he is intensely reluctant to lose her (as he sees it). She keeps doing things that remind him she is losing her memory, some of them unnecessary, but one night her mind slips while cross-country skiing in a near by place and she begins to wander. He is terrified and hunts for her in the SUV but luckily finds her on a road where she is in danger of being run over before a fatal accident can occur. This precipitates him into researching the question, finding a retirement home, and then allowing her to go into the retirement home as an experiment, which she says well, if you want to put it that way. It is put as him agreeing to this.

Here is the scene where he is clearly suffering so, before she goes into the retirement home:

Grant (Gordon Pinssent) and Fiona (Julie Christie), Away from Her (2007)

For the last six weeks we have been reading and discussing Alice Munro’s latest collection of stories, Runaway, and our discussion has been enlightening. We have talked about the stories in literary, feminist and humanist, as well as personal terms. One participant was moved to tell us about a poem she wrote in response to two other stories by Munro she had read: “If the children stay” and “What will be Remembered”. She had thought the first story was about how women are sometimes made to sacrifice their lives, and from from being unappreciated for this, are resented or deserted, and therefore want to and do get back.

Alice Munro’s text and Polley’s film are both about getting back, only Munro encourages us to condemn the husband for his affairs, while the film says these were not important and Fiona should forgive him (if she doesn’t she will end up destroying herself as she cannot do without him). About 3/4s the way through Polley’s film a pointed conversation occurs. A ward employee, Kirsty (played by Wendy Crewson), employee, Kirsty (Kristen Thompson), who has taken it upon herself to talk with Grant and comfort him in his daily visits suggests that maybe Grant is right and Fiona does not have Alzheimers’ (even if she has memory loss), and from what Grant has just suggested to her (Kirsty), Fiona may be just getting back. Grant has told Kirsty he had affairs in his married life and Fiona never did. He thought these affairs didn’t matter and they had been happy. He wants now to be open-minded over Fiona’s attachment to another patient, Aubry (played by Michael Murphy). It is after all not a physically consummated relationship.

Grant’s comment prompts an unusual personal admission from Kirsty in the film: the film’s Kristy is separated, her husband lives far away and she supports and cares for 3 children while holding onto this many houred more than 5 day a week job. Kirsty says she bets a lot of men might say their marriages were contented; while if you asked the woman in the same marriage, she would not.

It is important to see the difference between film and narrative text here: Munro’s Kirsty tells no such story and makes no such overt judgement on Fiona; Munro’s text relies on how Grant tells the reader of the many many affairs he had throughout his life (which he gives us concrete details about) for us to see that Grant has badly hurt Fiona and not realized it.

The text is different in this way: Munro’s text makes these affairs concrete. We get descriptions of the women, and Grant’s sense of triumph over some, of his competitiveness, & promiscuity; about a letter one of the roommates of one (some were his students) wrote him to tell of her friend’s attempted suicide. He doesn’t believe the woman really would have gone through with it.

Now Polley’s film does not go on to make Grant’s memory of his affairs central to the action of the film or Grant’s voiced thoughts. (There is little voice-over in this film.) What is central to Polley’s film is Grant’s devotion: he cannot bear to be away from his Fiona; she gives him “the spark of life” (a phrase that is in Munro’s text but not repeated as it is in Polley’s film).

In Munro’s text Grant’s tales of how his affairs affected his career adversely are central to the narrative line. Grant’s area was Norse mythology, one which attracted older woman coming back to school, not for jobs, but enrichment, so were up for affairs, bored housewives you see. I feel that in Munro’s text, there is much continual implicit hostility to Grant both by the third-person narrator (and I should think on the part of female readers). In my judgement, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” differs from all the stories I’ve read thus far in Runaway in that we are to not like Grant, the central protagonist, for in the text as in the film, the central figure is Grant, not Fiona.

As in Austen’s Emma, Munro’s text is told in the third person, but we get a lot of indirect speech which moves between narrator and Grant. It’s a more feminist story than those we are reading in Runaway. Grant is a “philanderer” in Munro’s text; the word is used by him in order to reject any harsh judgement on himself; he was no real philanderer as he never left his wife openly (perhaps by lying for a day or so or even few days and nights now and then), but nothing more than this, he says to himself reassuringly. We are to accept and he accepts his promiscuity. In Munro’s story we are told (as we are not in the film) Grant got his job through his father-in-law so Fiona brought connections to the marriage and provided Grant with the living in the first place.

In Polley’s film we are only told that Fiona was Icelandic by background, and this is used to show her ambiguous memory loss as until the end of the film, she denies remembering she is Icelandic by origin, pretends no interest in books on Iceland that Grant brings to the retirement home; at the end of Polley’s film she suddenly does remember she is Icelandic by origin.

A central moment in both the film and text is another pointed conversation Fiona opens up as she and Grant are driving to the retirement home. She says we should not keep everything painful secret, and then goes on speak of her grief at Grant’s affairs and her desperate gratitude he never left her. She says how lucky she was as some of her friends’ husband did leave them. Her marriage has not broken up. In both once she gets to the retirement home, she proceeds very quickly to fall in love with the above-mentioned male patient, Aubrey, in the retirement home. Aubrey is an utter sad sack, he practically drivels, seems to have little intellectual competence, and shows himself spiteful (he will drop his cards if she moves away from him in a bridge game), and he does everything to make her cater to him, including feed him. He is utterly dependent on her. We can see this appeals to her, and Grant is told by the retirement people, these sorts of “friendships” happen.

Here is Fiona attempting to reason Grant into accepting she is busy with Aubry:

Grant (Gordon Pinssent), Fiona (Julie Christie) with Aubrey (Michael Murphy) between them, Away from Her (2007)

We are led to see as the text and film progresses that for once Fiona is the needed person. This is why she is allured by Aubrey. Fiona implies this when Grant comes over to her in his daily visits. He does visit every day and Fiona’s response is basically to reject and to ignore him. She does everything she can to avoid lingering talk; she avoids his physical gestures and clearly wants no touching from Grant. Fiona avoids pretends to or doesn’t remember his gifts of flowers and books (on Iceland, one by Auden); she says jokingly many times in the film (this is not repeated in Munro’s text) you “persist,” and “how persistent you are.” In the film he shows up every day after an initial 30 day period where he is not allowed to come is over; in the story he comes only on Wednesdays and Saturdays after he sees how he is rejected, though he is very lonely. In the text he manifests a minmal pride he does not in the film.

Further, both text and film end suddenly and abruptly and on the same dialogue where we see Fiona capitulate to Grant, give up keeping her cool distance. In both Aubry’s wife, Marion (played very effectively by Olympia Dukakis) takes Aubrey out of the retirement home; she had only put him there temporarily. In the film, Aubrey and Fiona grieve badly. In the film and text Grant seems at first to love Fiona so that he begins a relationship with Aubry’s wife, Marion (played very effectively by Olympia Dukakis), partly to get Marion to put Aubrey back into the retirement home.

Grant (Gordon Pinssent) and Marion (Olympia Dukakis) as he makes his first moves in the relationship, Away from Her (2007)

In both film and text Grant succeeds in persuading Marion to sell her house in order to pay for putting Aubrey back into the retirement home permanently. But when Grant has wheeled Aubrey to Fiona’s door and walks in (closing the door and not letting Fiona see his latest present), Fiona is suddenly more alert than she’s been for a long time. She had been sent to the second floor where she would deteriorate further and was in danger of becoming a vegetable. She has pulled herself back from this self-imposed fate (if it is self-imposed).

In both as Grant enters the room, Fiona is finally reading his present, Auden’s travel book about Iceland, and she seems to understand it. She runs to him and we hear a repeat of this conversation in the car: you never left me; you had all these affairs (the film implies this much more subtly), but never left me. How grateful I am. You will never desert me, will you? She flings herself into his arms at long last. He hugs her and says “never” (in the film—or some such phrase) and “Not a chance” in the text.

So he won. She is still his. She was trying to leave him and to get back, but didn’t manage it. She is still utterly dependent on him. This is a text and film adaptation about getting back after and because of a life lived. There’s a dialogue in the film (not in the story) where Marion says people are of two types; those who don’t forgive and those who do. She used to be part of the first group and now life has led her to be part of the second. The film Marion seems to suggest we lose too much if we don’t forgive. So the film condemns Fiona for getting back if she is getting back, and Fiona learns a sort of lesson. Munro’s textual Marion says no such thing. Munro’s text does not judge Fiona adversely.

There’s a secondary story that emerges in both the narrative text and film (beyond Kristy’s in the film): Marion’s, and here is where I’m puzzled both by film and text. What happens now? Does Grant bring Aubrey back to Marion? Too late; Marion has sold the house. Does he dump Aubry in the common room and take Fiona home with him? Fiona has deteriorated—the text & film are realistic. People often do deteriorate in such places. Fiona no longer dresses smartly; her hair has been wrecked; she has lost a sense of self-containment, pride and feeling she is abley; she does forget more things and is much thinner and weakened. She lays in bed for hours at a time.

Why this is important is in both film and text Marion has embarked on an affair with Grant. He has real affairs you see still—after all Fiona could not have sex with Aubry; only hold his cards, push his wheelchair, sit by him. Marion is lonely; her son does not visit her. She sees clearly that Grant has come to her to wheedle Aubrey from her; Aubrey is a burden even if he gives her a contact with human beings. The reason she has taken him back from the retirement home is not that she misses him emotionally or needs his companionship. He is a burden which gives her something to do. What she wants and values is the house. Marion says she has spent a lifetime making it what it is.

In both film and text Marion is angry at Aubry for incompetence in being retired and not getting a good pension, and also bitter at how Aubrey wouldn’t let her intervene to try to wrest something from his company. However, we are further told in Munro’s text (not Polley’s film) that Marion is the type in the world where money comes first and matters most. (I feel this is omitted from the film for it would offend many people in a mass movie audience as many people in the world do let money lead their basic decisions, including marriage.) In both film and text Marion invites Grant to come to a dance with her, and in the car afterwards asks him to pretend (to love her). She is more desperately aggressive in Munro’s text. Well, he does appear to love Marion sufficiently, for at least in the film we see they go to bed together, and in the text Grant suggests he does so too. But then this is par for the course for him.

Here I am puzzled. In both film and text, did Marion agree to give up Aubrey and sell her house on the supposition she will not be Grant’s partner? If he has done this, he has betrayed Marion as well again undermined Fiona and betrayed her casually What is to happen to Marion if Grant brings Fiona home? If he does, he has a menage a trois and has won big; that is, if having two women who need and want him, is winning big. He is probably too wise to want to live with two rival women.

The title of Munro’s text is “The Bear Came over the Mountain.” That child’s rhyme goes “The bear came over the mountain to see what he could see” (three times) and then “what did he see?,” “Why, the other side of the mountain.” That’s what he saw. Are we to feel for Grant? I don’t think so from the text, but the film whose title is Away from Her, shows him to be a deeply loving husband willing to endure daily humiliation and stay with a deteriorating wife despite his subtly presented hinted at affairs
(in the film these kept in the margins and not told, only left vague). Poor guy; this broken woman, Fiona, he doesn’t leave her. He remembers what she was, and out of this cherished memory, will take her home or endlessly visit her.

Either way (whether he takes Fiona home and drops Marion, or leaves Fiona there and carries on with Marion) in the text I really feel we are to dislike Grant by the end. In the film we are to feel for him—and unusually not all the threads are tied up (we are not shown what happened to Marion after we see her putting her things from her house in boxes since she’s sold her house). Perhaps then the audience will not think about what happens to Marion now? Perhaps the audience is heartless and since Marion has had an affair with Grant (many audience members may regard this as adultery—gasp, horrors and so on), not care about her. Remember the laughter I mentioned in the audience; I forget when they laughed exactly, but it sure showed a lack of empathy.

In Munro’s text we feel for him, and yet I think it’s a case like Austen’s Emma: Austen said she created in Emma herself a character she expected her audience would not like very much (Austen’s novel is told from Emma’s standpoint and many readers do like Emma for the women identify with her as she’s smart, middle class, the boss, admired, so she is occasionally malicious, destructive, egoistic, proud, doesn’t apologize, what then? Mr Knightley likes and marries her). The emphasis in Munro’s text is Grant telling us about his past with these women, his deteriorating career (we don’t hear about this in the film) and how his affairs contributed to that. He took a retirement with reduced pay just in time. Nowadays he might get in trouble for these affairs.

So the film justifies the husband’s having had affairs. We must learn to forgive you see.

Now onto the themes themselves and I’ll have done. Getting back. I said about the poem the person on WW contributed that I had not read the stories her poems address themselves to, but had not lived my life in a way that necessitates or brings me to think of my ways as including getting back. I did not sacrifice myself in a fundamental way. I have spent my existence reading and writing as my primary tasks (even if for long stretches of time I could only do these in interstices of a day). Not entirely true now I think of it.

I was married for the first time at age 16 to 21. Without embarrassing you by telling details, let me say that in that 5 years I did live in a way with my first husband that made me realize when I left him I had gotten back. I took a sharp and hard revenge for what he did to me and how I was led to live with him. Now he had hurt me, taken and done some stuff I didn’t forgive. I was young then and afterwards think I would not get into a relationship like that where I would be led to get back. I was morally stupid in the choices I made then; I didn’t see I didn’t have to make such choices. So I have done this and experienced it. It’s a mess of terrible feeling because of the guilt I’ve felt for how I got back (I certainly did) and also despising myself for living that way and thus for the rest of my life closing off some chances I might have had had I lived the 5 years differently (though I realize I could not have been other than I was as people often can’t be, especially at 16—these years include 2 years I
don’t remember hardly at all, a blank). It’s about just such realities Munro’s story deals with.

I’ve wanted to get back at a woman where I work who (suffice to say) has caused me much distress. I can’t. I have no handle. Now that kind of getting back were I able to do it is different from getting back through life (it would be something like she did to me, offer me bad schedules which I rejected and try to humiliate me which I fended off). Munro’s story is about taking revenge as a result of living in close intimacy with someone (children too, as the poem and Munro’s story, “The Children stay” was about a woman who left her children with her husband to go live with a lover). I feel this appalling sort of thing that is banal and happens a lot show us how life itself becomes a quietly gothic tale.

I regard my job for money as external from me; what I do for money is not central to my life. I’ve had talk with women friends who find this statement astonishing. One was a friend who said more than once when she stayed home with her children, she felt she was dead to the world, had no life in effect. I found this astonishing and it reminded me of Italo Calvino’s story about the nun (hiliarious) who keeps saying how she’s cut off from the world and all she experiences are rape, poverty, war, hatred, revenge, fear, anxiety and so on. My friend thought what happened at work was a central to the blood going through her veins as what happened at home. I can’t see this as most of the time we don’t confide intimately in the people we work with, and we can be fired at any time, any day, any hour. You can’t fire your lover just like this, certainly not your husband or children, nor even your parents. By nature (and because it takes so little) you send coffee-pots to your aging Ps (as Marion’s son sends her), cards (which is what I do), or, if you can endure it, visit or phone once in a long while.

Second, sex outside the marital relationship. I suggested in one of
my ruminations on Munro’s stories on WW that I find crass and feelingless the idea that marriage is based on a sex bargain. The word “cheating” suggests when you marry you give up having sex with others and when the partner has sex, he or she has cheated because after you gave up supposed opportunities (with the implication you’ve been cheated out of some advantage!). I suggested this is nuts and a permanent marriage is founded on companionship—what Milton calls “conversation.”

However, now I’ll backtrack and say if a man is continually promiscuous in the way Grant apparently was and the effect on his wife, Fiona, of this and her life at home as his non self-supporting wife, is to make her feel she has to be grateful to him like some dog that he didn’t discard her, then sex outside the marital relationship is cruel and thus wrong. It’s not the sex itself, but the repetition, heartlessness, carelessness, and the situation of the wife that make the situation ugly.

The film erases or obscures this central profound emotional pain Munro wanted us to see. We have Kristy’s bitterness, but against that Marion’s forgiveness. The film’s concentration on Grant’s suffering weighs in and the feel is one must forgive a husband who has affairs if he remains apparently loving. It doesn’t have the courage to say that sex as such is not what is the betrayal.

Poor Marion in the text and film. If she were real, I would hope she had had enough prudence to make sure she had enough money left over to get herself an apartment and live on her own. The beauty of Munro’s text is we are made to feel for the women Grant had affairs with too—through what we imagine is Marion’s fate in Grant’s devoted act supposedly for Fiona (also the young woman student whose roommate wrote Grant to tell him she had attempted to commit suicide).


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. Thanks for this. You described it beautifully, but it’s all so sad. I take Munro’s title a step further than you have: it’s one of those endless songs you learn at summer camp: after the bear sees another mountain he goes over that one (3x) and what does he see, another mountain (3x), which he goes over (3x), ad infinitum. So the point is the meaningless compulsiveness of this behavior and the complicity of the women who go along with it, knowing what they do. Which ends up being, at least for me, a very, very sad story about the way many people live, if not in this particular way, then in other craziness in which we hurt one another.
    Bob    May 28, 8:56pm    #
  2. Jim just read the blog too, and after going over the story online and reading some further reviews of the movie suggested a very different perspective than the one I presented.

    Jim suggests “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” is an O. Henry type story. The famous O’Henry story is when the wife cuts her hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch and the husband sells his watch to buy a comb for his wife’s hair. Jim thinks such stories are cruel. He said as far as he could see Grant went to all this trouble to wrest Aubry from Marion to give Aubry to Fiona, and then what happens? Grant shows up with Aubry only to find Fiona remembering she is Icelandic, reading & understanding Auden on Iceland, and then she throws herself into his arms, all gratitude once again for his devotion. Marion is in the position of someone who sold her watch to provide someone else a comb who no longer wants it.

    We got to talking of the modern artful short story. I said how much I had been engaged by Munro's story collection, Runaway. He and I then walked into a bookstore and found a thick book, Collected Stories of Munro, chosen by Margaret Atwood. It was $30 so forget it, but it contained the whole of Runaway and the whole of Hateship, Friendship ... , which contains one of the stories the person on WW was so moved by. Atwood argues Munro is a major fiction writer of our time. I suggested to Jim that Munro’s typical story could not be done in a long novel; her material seems to require leaving off, and that this form had been emerged as dominant in the 1890s, with say Katherine Mansfield as an early famous practitioner of the “realistic” story and M. R.James of the gothic.

    (Short stories existed before but they were tales, essentially not artful, rather simply very short novels or crude.)

    He then said the short story as practiced is a form which depends on radical incompleteness. To make the “deep” effect it does it leaves out a lot, quite deliberately leaves much enigmatic. The implication is it’s a sort of trick. Think of Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw", and our inability to say quite what happened or what we should think of it.

    Another point of view is often thought-provoking.

    Elinor    May 28, 9:12pm    #
  3. Leslie R from WW wrote this past weekend:

    “I saw it on the weekend, and I recommend it highly. I’ll be interested to hear what you and others who see it have to say, Fran.

    The performances are quietly beautiful, and the movie is moving and powerful without ever being sentimental. Polley doesn’t manipulate us into feeling but puts things in front of us and lets us feel for ourselves. Big roles or small, the actors are wonderful. Wendy Crewson as the relentlessly chipper and harried institutional administrator really sticks in my head—she gets every move, every word so very right. The people and the environments in which they move look real, not like glossy movie imitations of the real.

    Sarah Polley made this movie on a shoestring: at the end of the credits is a long list of acknowledgements of all the agencies from whom she scraped up money. Every penny of it is money well-spent.

    Now I really must read the story it’s based on. I’ve read lots of Munro, but not that story.

    Elinor    May 28, 10:00pm    #
  4. IN response to Bob,

    My sense of the text by Munro is Fiona hurts only herself in her attempt to leave Grant and hurt him as badly as he has scalped her throughout life. Her state at the end is an outward visible sign of how she has endangered herself by going into this retirement home—where she deteriorated badly.

    Another angle of the story and the film too is a hard critique of what happens to people who go into these retirement homes, even of the expensive type Grant and Fiona can obviously afford. The character of Madeleine (Wendy Crewson) is the “site” in the film for seeing how the people who control the place really see those who become their (in effect) prisoners.

    Marion did not act crazily, and since this is an ironic third-person narration we could say that it’s Grant’s complacency that leads him to disdain Marion’s concern with money and her house.
    Marion is probably going to be very badly hurt (as she may not have a cushion of money to fall back on).

    As I suggested, to me this story is unlike those we’ve been reading on WW (Runaway) for it has at its center a character who is an immense egoist who hurts others and never knows it. All is his to devour and he only sees himself as utterly devoted and reasonable.

    Elinor    May 29, 7:00am    #
  5. From Kathleen James-Cavan (on C18-l):

    Hello Ellen,

    I am looking forward to seeing Sarah Polley’s film—thanks for making it the subject of your blog. I wanted to pass on two suggested revisions: Runaway (2004) is not Munro’s latest collection; rather, The View from Castle Rock is her latest (published September 2006) and will be her last, according to the dustjacket and publisher’s info. I highly recommend it. I would have to classify it as a fictional memoir that, when read against previous works such as Lives of Girls and Women, enriches the reader’s experience of her whole oeuvre. The other revision is the spelling of Ottawa.

    I haven’t been able to see the film yet (I don’t know if it has made it to Saskatoon yet) but I imagine the
    landscape is meant to evoke the region around Wiarton and Owen Sound,places in central Ontario for which the nearest large(ish) centre would be Guelph or Kitchener. So your guess about being near Toronto would be about right.

    All best wishes,
    Kathleen James-Cavan
    Department of English
    University of Saskatchewan
    Elinor    May 29, 8:56am    #
  6. From Fran:

    I wrote: “Jim…suggested it was an O.Henry type story. The famous O’Henry story ends when the wife cuts her hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch and the husband sells his watch to buy a comb for his wife’s hair. Jim thinks such stories are cruel.”

    Fran replied:

    “I have to admit, I hadn’t made the connection, but wish I had it’s so spot on:)

    I’ve been recommending both Munro and the film Away from Her to German guests this holiday weekend and my own word of to describe her style was not exactly cruel, but ‘schonungslos’, which means ‘unsparing’, unsparing both of story character and reader. She’s definitely not one for the gratuitous happy ending, which she so beautifully, ironically and pitilessly (another possible translation of ‘schonungslos’), subverts at the end of the story.

    Elinor    May 29, 2:16pm    #
  7. I think that Fiona’s motivations for wanting to go into the institution are very complex in the film. She knows that she is disappearing (says so at one point) and wants to go before that happens, while she is still herself and is able to make a decision about her own future. Grant doesn’t want her to go partly because he is devoted to her, because he loves her, certainly, but also because he doesn’t want to believe that she is really ill. He wants to believe the confusion and forgetting are temporary. To send her to the institution would be admit that they are not, and he can’t face this knowledge. Fiona is tougher and clearer-eyed: she knows she won’t come back from this, no matter what moments of illumination may come to her, as in the car on the way to the institution when she remembers a walk there with Grant or at the end when she seems to come back to him, but this coming back is illusory. The loss is what’s real.

    Her motivations for her attachment to Aubrey are also complex. As you say in your blog, it’s partly being needed by someone. But she also says to Grant, in the film, that Aubrey doesn’t confuse her; Grant does. Confuses her how? With his need to see the Fiona he knows and loves, to call her back with memories she can’t quite see herself much of the time, through books and fragments of their shared past. Even when she can remember these things, they hurt her because they are vanishing. None of that is there with Aubrey, none of those complex webs of feelings and resentments and shared memories and need (including sexual need) that are always there with anyone with whom we have a history. Grant sees in her the person she is (though he resists that) and also the person he has always known, the person he’s been with for decades. And that person is disappearing-is moving away from both of them. Aubrey sees only Fiona as she is now, and that simplicity is less disturbing to her than Grant’s more complex relationship with her, which she can no longer participate in fully.

    I saw Munro’s attitude to Grant’s affairs as quite nuanced, not simply condemnatory. She says that Grant did what so many did in those days of the late 1960s and early 1970s at the university, that he let himself make these choices, certainly, but that the choices were shaped by a cultural context that he and so many colluded in. Both story and film make it clear that the affairs ended long ago, when he left the university (and the film does acknolwedge that he left early and suggests an affair had something to do with that, though less directly than the story), and both also make clear that Grant would prefer not to think very much about how Fiona might have felt about them. For him these are in the past; for her they are not (in both story and film). I don’t think the film simply let Grant off the hook. Part of his desperate clinging to Fiona, and part also of his attempt to make her happy by giving Aubrey back to her, is his guilt and shame for the hurt he caused her.

    In both story and film, I think, forgiveness is not really the point. I don’t remember Marian using the word in the scene in the car. She says there are two types of people: those who stay angry and those who just get on with things and move on, and now she prefers to be one of the second type. “It’s just life. And you can’t beat life,” as she said earlier (or words close to that).

    The film is often “unsparing” (to use Fran’s very good word), but it is also tender, though not sentimental. I especially liked its depiction of the characters’ sexuality. It is exceedingly rare for a film to acknowledge that people remain sexual as they age, that women remain sexual, that aging people feel attraction to one another, that they still like sex, that sex is part of the need people have for one another even in age. All of that should be obvious, but our culture so relentlessly attributes sexuality only to the young and either ignores or mocks it in the old, that a film that presents sexuality as simply another part of life: sometimes tender and sweet, sometimes passionate, sometimes fun (Marian and Grant both seem to enjoy their encounter and they laugh together in bed afterwards) is to be commended.

    Leslie    May 29, 3:47pm    #
  8. From Fran:

    “Dear Leslie, Ellen and all,

    I only spotted that story link shortly before my trip to the cinema, so having had no time to read it first, I was able to appreciate the film and its actors without having comparisons to make and was really taken and absorbed by the fine performances, especially by Julie Christie, Dukakis and Crewson.

    I thought Pinset came across weak in contrast, but having read the story subsequently I tend to feel he was left a little in the void of what was omitted or shifted in his character in its transference to film. As amazingly mature a job Polley did for such a young director, I felt she had difficulty encompassing the critical nuances Munro invested Grant’s character with in the book, and I think a lot of it had to do with Munro’s choice of narrative technique, which at times reminds me a lot of Flaubert’s in its use of a kind of style indirect libre. While she could lift whole passages of revealing dialogue for her women out of the story, she seems to have had more difficult finding a filmic equivalent for this third person narration from Grant’s perspective in the story, which left his character sometimes strangely silent and passive
    in the film.

    It’s Munro’s use of this which makes me wonder, too, if what you say here: ‘She says that Grant did what so many did in those days of the late 1960s and early 1970s at the university, that he let himself make these choices, certainly, but that the choices were shaped by a cultural context that he and so many colluded in.’

    is really Munro’s qualification of his behaviour, and not rather one of the character Grant’s own constant rationalizations and excuses presented in this third person, but still subjective, technique, especially since he even adds Fiona successfully managed to avoid such collusion.

    Otherwise my own impressions of the film are very similar to yours, especially with regard to Fiona’s motivations in wanting to go to the home while it’s still her own conscious choice to make and the reasons for the confusion unconsciously caused by Grant’s persistance in trying to hold onto a Fiona who s no longer able to exist in the same way for him. Like you, too, I appreciated the sensitivity with which Polley showed her elder characters continuing need for a loving, tender and still sexual relationship.

    Elinor    May 29, 11:02pm    #
  9. Dear Fran and Leslie,

    Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful replies.

    Like Fran, I saw the film first, and was so engaged by it, I sat down and read the story later that night. So my first response to the film was not shaped by a preconception from the story, though by the time I wrote my posting I was strongly affected by the story and bothered by how it had been changed to favor Grant.

    I agree with Leslie that Munro’s depiction of Grant is nuanced and sympathetic at times, but I felt a strong hostility for him too (or I conceived one myself). Fran’s analogy is Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, whose heroine is named Emma and who I have thought may have been influenced by Austen’s Emma as in them both the narrative is ironic. We have the free indirect speech where we have narrator and character mingled, but basically Flaubert and Austen’s novels are told from the point of view of a character who is an intense egoist. Thus all that Grant tells us is a reflection of his views and not to be taken at face value. As in Austen’s Emma, the narrating voice (a heroine) does not recognize this deeper strata of her blunders at the end of the novel, and remains essentially the same (recognizing her literal blunders and her need for Mr Knightley but not changing in any transformative way—part of the book’s realism and probably greatness), so I saw Grant and see Madame Bovary.

    Like other narratives and film adaptations one can say the two deepen one another by developing different points (this is beyond the one, the film, obscuring the affairs, and the other, the story, dwelling at length on them), so if only in the film Marion says she accepts (right it’s not forgive, it’s accept) what others have done to her as that’s life, we could apply that to the story. Being it’s the film, it’s outside Grant for a film cannot do free indirect speech and ironic narration; it really is something Marion says. But that’s Marion, not Fiona, and I felt Fiona had been seared by the past. Because something occurred in the past doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter; something can happen once and forever after affect us, not be forgotten and not accepted either. That Fiona recurs to the affairs and her pathetic gratitude that after all he didn’t leave her which some of her friend’s husbands did at the very end of film and story suggests to me it’s not in the past for her, and the pain is as strong as ever.

    So I guess I’m saying the story did condemn him in part as I think Flaubert’s narrative condemns Madame Bovary and Austen’s Emma in part. And it bothered me the film seemed to me to obscure all this with his present devotion. I took his devotion to be not simpy love but self-interest; he wanted to continue to own Fiona. However deteriorating she may be she is using her loss of memory to get away from him and separate herself from him. There is something improbable I think in her desire to go into a home before she is anywhere having to.

    So I see Fiona’s desire to enter the retirement home as complex too, only for me that complexity includes a desire to leave him and once there to get back. I agreed with Kirsty’s agreement with Grant himself who suggests this.

    The comment about how Aubrey doesn’t confuse her did puzzle me. I see what Leslie suggests. He’s simple now and cannot get under Fiona’s skin and elicit from her reactions she is frightened by.

    I agree the film was even noble in its presentation of older people’s sexuality, and yes Marion wanted to go to bed with Grant herself and they enjoy it. But (as I wrote) I wonder what happens to Marion now. She’s lost her house by paying for Aubrey to go into the home; she is like an O.Henry character who sold something precious and what return will she get?

    I wouldn’t trust Grant; she says she understands he’s pretending to like or love her, but that’s before they go to bed, before she agrees to give him Aubrey.

    I take an altogether darker view of Grant (as will be seen) and Fiona too. Because a person has disabilities doesn’t mean they lose their spite and preening motivations. I have memory loss myself. It sounds funny but I can’t remember my multiplication tables any more. I used to have them by heart, but about 2 years ago realized they had disappeared. Some others too. I don’t remember two years of my life. But I’m not humanly different than I was before I had these losses.

    I did sympathize strongly with Marion (and by extension the women Grant had affairs with however slightly he regarded them). I took the omission of the slur about her philistinism in the film as being careful not to offend the audience, but in the story felt is was Grant’s complacency that enabled him to look down on her concern.

    Fran suggests Pinsett had the hardest role to play as much of the complexity of his past in the story was omitted. I think he was sentimentalized in the movie in ways none of the other characters were.

    So to conclude I guess I’m saying that no matter who is the director and writer, a movie is a company product, shaped by producers and the company executives too, and what they did was turn a story which questioned this male acceptance of promiscuity into one where the male’s present idolization (“away from her” he can’t live without her &c&c) of the object becomes the center of the tale. Quite a number of the Austen film adaptations turn texts that are women-centered into films that make the male the center of the action even if the nominal central protagonists are the heroines.

    Grant is like Munro's Mr Travers (in her story, "Passion") who finds his raison d’etre in taking care of Mrs Travers; Mrs Travers accepts this. What Fiona thinks we don’t know for far more than many of the characters in Emma say she is kept at a distance from us in the story and her behavior in the film is enigmatic.

    Elinor    May 29, 11:36pm    #
  10. From Fran:

    “Ellen wrote:

    ‘So I guess I’m saying the story did condemn him in part as I think Flaubert’s narrative condemns Madame Bovary and Austen’s Emma in part. And it bothered me the film seemed to me to obscure all this with his present devotion. I took his devotion to be not simpy love but self-interest; he wanted to continue to own Fiona,’

    I think it’s a constant in these stories so far that Munro shows people’s motivations to be very mixed and never one-sided or wholly transparent, even to the people involved. I think at the root of any act of charity or apparent self-sacrifice lies the question of whether it is performed in a spirit of true altruism or whether it’s not at some level to gratify one’s own ego by making oneself feel good, and perhaps more importantly, look good to others.

    I agree with Ellen that Grant is portrayed on the whole more positively, more sentimentally and as more needy in the film in than in the story, but there are a couple of scenes where I thought that Polley tries to deconstruct this projected image, and the most memorable is one that got a laugh in my cinema, too, and may well be the one Ellen couldn’t pinpoint precisely in her earlier mail: it’s the scene at the elevator where Fiona is due to be shunted up to the dreaded second floor for far-gone patients, and Grant is shown waiting with her and the staff, apparently shattered by his emotions, forehead on the closed lift doors. At that point the pathos of the scene becomes bathos when a new character Polley has introduced to the story, a former sports commentator who continues to give a running commentary on every event in the home as if he were in a stadium, passes with his nurse and comically comments on the man at the lift on the right with a broken heart or some such thing, which seems to add a positively grandstanding note to Grant’s behaviour.

    Of course, Polley may have been just trying to break the tension and lighten the emotion to make the film easier for her audience to take (presumably the reason for the introduction of this character in the first place), but I tend to think it is also an attempt to add some of the critical distance Munro achieves in her story through her third person technique.

    Polley seems to be doing some of the same with those additional scenes with the nurse that add the woman’s perspective on betrayal and adultery and subvert Grant’s own casual dismissal of any lasting effects of such actions on a continuing relationship. Polley often takes over dialogue from the story more or less verbatim, but I thought there was a nice little ironic change to one of Kristy’s comments in this respect. In the story she tries to comfort Grant about Fiona’s upset at Aubrey’s departure by saying ‘They have to get over these things on their own. They’ve got short memories, usually. That’s not always so bad.’ In the film she says something like it’s a comfort that it is often the long-term memory that is the last to go and Pinset/Grant winces and replies to the effect of ‘not always’.

    Grant’s actions seem to be an act of reparation, but both story and film seem to imply there are deeds that can never be truly repaired or forgotten, and that in trying to do so, even more damage may be caused, as in Marian’s case, even if she becomes to some extent a willing participant. The ultimate irony is that the leopard hasn’t truly changed his spots, since Grant’s desire to repair has led to renewed and even double betrayal of women.

    Elinor    May 30, 11:25pm    #
  11. From Fran:

    Looking for something further to Munro’s use of her third person technique, I stumbled upon this insightful film review by Juliet Waters, which covers quite a few points we’ve been discussing with reference to the differences in accent between film and story and their relative strengths:

    http://www.montrealmirror.com/2007/052407/books1.html (http://www.montrealmirror.com/2007/052407/books1.html)

    I’ve got the gushing Franzen introduction Waters critiques in my edition of Runaway and definitely felt Munro’s stories could have done without that. I liked Waters’ corrective:

    "Whether Munro can or cannot change a life or save a soul, she will, if you do the work of understanding her properly, change your fiction; your written fiction, or even just the fiction you keep telling yourself about your own life.’

    and on her third person, subjective narrative technique,

    ‘I think her great gift is the use of the third person,as Richard Ford said to me about Munro in a recent interview, sounding a little more down to earth. ‘She manages it so that you have this outside glancing intelligence, which is her narrator’s intelligence. And yet she manages to capture the interiority of the characters, to make them just as nuanced and quilted and dense and rich as you would normally associate with the first person. I have beached myself trying to figure out how she does that.â She does this so successfully that you can easily confuse the dominant perspective…..’

    Her review ends on this:

    ’“The Bear Came Over the Mountain” is an old folk song known by most of the generation Munro writes about. The meaning is in the lines that come after the title. “To see what he could see. And all that he could see was the other side of the mountain.” The story that Polley reads as a testament to a husband and his love for his wife is more likely to be read by another generation as a story about an ageing, desperate philanderer who is the victim of such divine retribution, it almost makes you believe in God.

    Away From Her is a lovely story about the old folks and their unconditional love. “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” is a sharper, more subtle and cynical story about the old folks and their forgetful brains. But that might depend on your point of view."
    Elinor    May 30, 11:31pm    #
  12. Thank you very very much Fran both for your further remarks and the review by Walters.

    Walters says much more concisely and cogently how I read the difference between story and film. Walters felt perhaps Polley had not understood the story. She explains how to read these ironic narrators and then leaves you to gather that Polley does not go outside Grant in the story and takes what he says at its face value. Myself I thought perhaps Polley was led to make this switch by her producer and the rest of her team; a movie is the product of a group of people, and perhaps she would have had a hard time getting funding were she to have presented a story of an aging couple whose real burden is an unsparing hard look at their past life and present ambiguous motivations, the husband’s hurting his wife badly during all the years of his professorship and her now getting back, with him returning to philandering to get her another present. The sentimental way of seeing the story is much more what a mass audience would want.

    I did laugh myself at the scene where the commentator takes over and we are led to construct the action as a kind of battle a la tennis games at Wimbledon. The laughter that bothered me came at other instances. It’s hard for me to remember because I didn’t find funny whatever these other did. Some occurred just after Fiona is put in the retirement home—there was laughter at the aging people watching TV is one instance I recall.

    It’s a real problem I think the natural tendency to overpraise a fine writer. Our world is one where there is so little interest in great writers (really intelligent fine perceptive literary ones) so the ones who have the public eye cannot resist praising strongly. I came across an expensive volume of collected stories of Munro (over $30) with a rave review by Atwood. Atwood seemed to say what was accurately true and no more, but when she said Munro was one of the greatest fiction writers of the 20th century it had the effect of turning someone into a idol. It also shored up nationalism—again understandable when Canadian literature is not paid sufficient attention to by people outside Canada, but doing Munro really no favor if understanding her is the goal and reinforcing false bases for admiring books (because they are written by someone who shared an imagined identity with others).

    Overpraise hurts older writers too: fan worshippers of Austen for example, and often these people do distort the writer’s text so badly.

    Elinor    May 30, 11:45pm    #
  13. From Penny (WW):

    “The kind of memory loss she suffers doesn’t have anything to do with normal aging. I am constantly in this struggle. People keep ignoring the signs of AD and think oh it is just the age and they don’t get proper medical treatment.

    She doesn't remember who her husband is and of course it does come out that he is a jerk, so maybe they are using it as a vehicle for something else.

    BUT again, memory loss of what she suffers as in the reviews is NOT normal. There are different kinds of dementia Alz is just the biggest, she could have had strokes, Lewy Body, Picks, etc but she is not having normal aging.

    Thank You for the link.

    Penny Klein”
    Elinor    May 31, 6:20am    #
  14. On C18-l, Jim C first quoted me and then wrote as follows:

    “Polley may have taken the husband’s point of view (he is the narrative of a story told from the 3rd person using free indirect speech) at its surface value and not seen that Munro wanted us to step outside him and see something quite different than he does.”

    Or she may have done just what she said she wanted to do in the talk after the screening I saw – show love between two people who are actually old enough to know everything it means, rather than as new to love as they are to life.

    It seems superfluous here to launch into a discussion of how filmmakers often use fiction for very ifferent purposes than the original authors. Sarah Polley made a beautiful, accomplished film, and, in regard to that accomplishment, everything else is mere gloss.”

    On C18-l I defended my use of fidelity as a criteria to bring out how the film differed from the book. Usually I feel fidelity taken literally and too strictly is an unfair criteria for a film all by itself, but in this blog I sympathized with the desire not to see the text misunderstood and reframed or erased and obscured by readers after they have seen the film.

    I don't think Polley's film is as sentimental or emotional as Jim suggested either.

    I also said I do think the problems of ironic narration are important for reading 18th century texts. Wayne Booth's classic, _Rhetoric of Fiction_ is still germane.

    However, in Jim C's last paragraph I discern a scorn (sneering) for film criticism itself. What I have written is “mere gloss,” i.e., worthless. This is ever what readings and criticism have to contend with: dismissal of bringing out the humane interaction of the reader’s or viewer’s mind with the art. We are inferior it seems to the great genius.

    I think not. I think critical essays can be (not a blog, but a geniune essay) as deep and “creative” and more so than many popular narratives which are also given the honorific “original”.

    Elinor    May 31, 4:49pm    #
  15. From Penny on (WW):

    “I realize the diagnosis is just a plot device to move the theme along but if she cannot remember her husband or that she is Icelandic she is not aging normally. Believe me I am an expert on Alzheimer’s Disease. I spent Eleven years taking care of my mother. I know all the ins and outs. Even in the mid stages they can have periods of lucidity. I think my mother knew me to the bitter end. Believe me it is not a pretty disease because it is not really an AD movie they didn’t show what hell it really is to watch someone go through. It is also quite common for spouses in institutions to form other attachments, it is reverse Piaget as well, so maybhe the manipulation of the other man is just part of that “childlike ” behavior that is so much part of the disease.

    BTW, the Central Arizona chapter of the Alzheimer’s Ass’n is being allowed to use it as a fundraiser. Wonder what Ms Munro thinks of all this.

    People on the Alzheimer’s list by the way identified the behaviors of their loves in the movie and found it to be just like the experiences they had after placing a spouse.

    There are other dementias of course but they all end the same way.


    Penny Klein, MLS”
    Elinor    Jun 1, 7:15am    #
  16. Dear Penny,

    I didn’t mean to suggest that Fiona’s memory loss is within a norm of memory loss, only that as you say it’s a plot-device for treating something else—how such things can be used and exploited by people in a relationship. I found improbable that a woman would want to go into a retirement home well before she had to. In just about all the cases I’ve known the person who went into a retirement home did it at the last moment, not when they had become incapable but when they were able to be so. It’s show in study after study that most people deteriorate in these homes; they cost enormous amounts of money if you go into decent places (this is the result of specific immoral policies and laws promulgated by the US congress and elsewhere in other countries too, favoring capitalist organizations which make a lot of money on aging people as well as the medical establishment), and so people who go for it are those who have to have care immediately and now.

    Fiona (whether consciously or not) seeks to leave Grant and once she leaves him, she seeks to exclude him with a supposed lover; she is asserting her independence, but it’s a twisted one. It reminds me of children who refuse to talk or women who refuse to learn a new language in the country they go to: they think this gives them power or makes it impossible for those who have power and talk to manipulate them. Quite the contrary: painful as it may be, you must assert yourself through talk or you get nothing. In the end of the story she is on the second floor and is now desperately in need of Grant once again.

    Yes people do try to manipulate one another. Maybe it’s just more obvious when they are in desperate circumstances and are failing in their capacities.

    I have a hunch unless a film is a documentary and is content to have a small audience, you’ll see no film seriously about a disease like Alzheimer’s. Frederick Wiseman made an important documentary film about Domestic Violence; it played to tiny audiences and once on PBS.

    Life is heart-breaking—for those with hearts.

    Elinor    Jun 1, 7:16am    #
  17. Leslie quoted Fran:

    “She says that Grant did what so many did in those days of the late 1960s and early 1970s at the university, that he let himself make these choices, certainly, but that the choices were shaped by a cultural context that he and so many colluded in.’

    is really Munro’s qualification of his behaviour, and not rather one of the character Grant’s own constant rationalizations and excuses presented in this third person, but still subjective, technique, especially since he even adds Fiona successfully managed to avoid such collusion.”

    and then wrote:

    “Fran, I would agree with your qualification of this rationalisation that Grant would like to use to frame his choices but that Munro sees more clearly and hardheadedly than he does (just like Fiona is clearer-eyed and more hardheaded than he is in many ways).

    Elinor    Jun 1, 7:20am    #
  18. From Russ Hunt:

    “I think it may be worth underlining what Ellen says here:

    ‘I do think the problems of ironic narration are important for reading 18th century texts. Wayne Booth’s classic, Rhetoric of Fiction is still germane.’

    I think that the main reason I found our period attractive, back when I was an undergraduate, was that I felt invited in to the sets of assumptions which underlie Swift’s and Johnson’s writing —not necessarily that I shared them, but I felt invited to share them: I felt privileged to feel that I was part of the audience for the “Digression on Madness” or the “Mechanical Operation of the Spirit.” And although I’m not sure I understand how you become an engaged reader of texts like that a whole lot better than I did then, I’m still committed to an educational model which says that, after all, that’s what it’s about. I think that reading much of Alice Munro (and, of course, Jane Austen) calls forth the same array of mental assumptions and processes. The challenges of filming Munro are similar to the challenges of filming Austen. It’s interesting to consider the hopeless task of filming any of Swift (except Book I and parts of Book II of The Travels, which have been filmed, of course, but in films which pretty much missed the point).

    Elinor    Jun 1, 7:24am    #
  19. From Fran:

    “Thank you for your additional thoughts on Fiona’s condition as it relates to Alzheimer’s, Penny. I was particularly interested in your mention of reverse Piaget, so looked up some further information and found this paper on retrogenesis theory with a direct tabular comparison between Piaget’s development levels and the various stages of AD:

    Elinor    Jun 2, 9:00am    #
  20. From Patricia:

    “Tonight I took myself to Away from Her at the Lincoln Plaza theater on 62nd & Broadway, a very warm, but breezy summer night.

    I must say I was utterly spellbound through every beat of this film. It’s hard to believe that Sarah Polley who must be very young directed this subtle devastating piece of work. First of all, I thought Julie CHristie was superb. Her non British presentation (not just the accent but the entire persona) her sense of place in that relationship were consummately superb. I walked all the way home to 100th Street after because I needed to process what I had seen.

    I think it’s very important as Ellen and others have noted that the movie/the story is not about Alzeimer’s per se, just as the Civil War in Gone With the Wind is a kind of plot device to move the story along, in fact Alzheimer’s is an attack on the brain and a way of life, just as the Civil War was—to the South, an attack on their culture, and way of life,however heinous at its core of slavery.

    But the old South was also Romantic: this was the 19th century and I want to recommend an amazing novel in verse which also contains a love story: After the Lost War by Andrew Hudgins, in the voice of the Southern Romantic literature scholar, musician, poet and Confederatesoldier, Sidney Lanier. What an astounding book.

    Back to Away from Her I do agree the themes were subtle and complex, that yes in a way, as Ellen said in relation to my poem based on Munro’s story, “The Children Stay,” this story deals with a woman’s “getting back” at what she feels she has suffered as her husband’s victim. And it isn’t as clear in the film, perhaps, or maybe its more clear, the pretty toes of the college girls, the bare feet in sandals, and his palpable guilt which chokes him, chokes him until he’s begging her to forgive, to let go of the anger and of course to give him back the one thing that makes him feel connected, or alive, SEX.

    But, on the other side, Fiona seems also to use sex as a way to connect, since, when they arrive at Meadowland, the nursing home, she tells him to make love to her and then go. Certainly the young filmmaker, Polley, seeks to show them as a sexually connected couple, which is, I would have to note, fairly unusual after 44 years of marriage, though they have no children and that does make a relationship more intense, I guess, more one on one.

    Anyway, sorry I am wandering here, but as I said earlier, the film, as Munro’s stories, is vast and complex. Coincidentally there was a trailer for Lady Chatterly! The film I believe with the title cut short like that without the ”’s Lover” as in Lawrence’s title. The original story of sex onnecting 2 people—this of course coming out from underthe Victorian age. Oh I can’t go on here, there’s just too much.

    Also as Ellen has commented, Away from Her is not a documentary or chronicle of Alzheimer’s so I was not a bit disappointed with the portrayal.

    I was more invested in watching the Munro treatment of the male female life death marriage Eros thing. Did anyone already mention that in the film, the Olympia Dukakis character, Marion seems to be wearing the same striped sweater that Grant remarked looked tacky on Fiona when he sees her in it.

    Elinor    Jun 3, 6:32am    #
  21. Fran wrote again in response to a request for the review of the movie in the New Yorker:

    "Does anyone have the link to that review?"

    http://tinyurl.com/2we6ok (http://tinyurl.com/2we6ok)

    Still on the subject of links, I happened to see that ‘Passion’ was one of the O. Henry Story Prize choices for 2006, and juror Colm Tóibín’s personal selection – just scroll down this page:


    I also saw another, perhaps slightly unfair, reaction to ‘Passion’ in the online Pedestal Magazine,

    ‘Her “Passion”—young woman considering, over a period of time, her own choice between two possible mates—seems overly similar to other, better Munro stories. “Passion” reads like a mimicry of a Munro story by a talented Munro impersonator.’

    but it ties into one of my own impressions, which is that it does come across as a colder, more academic, finger exercise than many other stories in this collection.

    A propos the choice between two mates: one aspect of ‘Away from You/Bear’ we have discussed. Fiona thinks she recognizes in Aubrey her first real love, who she was separated from before it could go anywhere, while Grant sees in Marian the kind of woman he might have married if Fiona hadn’t taken him on as one of her make-over projects, so both possibly end up with what they actually might have had in the first place.

    Elinor    Jun 3, 10:26pm    #
  22. From Barbara Howard at Dove Grey Books at Yahoo:


    Thank you for bringing this film and the short story to my attention.

    I read the story and your critique of both with great interest. Sounds to me like it was not a mainstream movie. I hope it makes it over here. So Julie Christie plays Fiona. I suppose we are all getting older but it seems like only yesterday she was being Lara in Dr Zhivago. Ah well, there you go.

    I have never read any Alice Munro. I must add her to my list. Probably my local library has some of her books. However, currently, Decca (all 700+ pages) is vying for my attention along with about a dozen other ‘must reads’.

    On the related subject of aging and Alzheimers Simon says on his blog that he is currently reading The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell and last we read the Persephone Book There were no windows by Norah Hoult.

    Elinor    Jun 4, 6:48am    #
  23. From Simon Thomas:

    “I really wanted to watch this film, but it seemed to have quite limited release in the UK a few weeks ago – or perhaps those were promotional, or something. Certainly didn’t seem to come to Oxford. Maybe one of the artier cinemas, slightly late.”
    Elinor    Jun 4, 6:49am    #
  24. Another aspect of “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” and Away from Her:

    Just about every single 3rd person narration thus in Munro’s Runaway told by a sensitive intelligent person, each time a woman, who the world in effect turns into a flotsam and jetsam, or uses as the common average person wants, sneering at any extra gifts (as it were), a stray animal available for men to pick up, a misfit. I suggested this stance is one which is common to the gothic, and I think it’s common to older novels and many women’s novels still: the traditional heroine Nabokov in one of his articles sneers at too. The victim who lays bare the power structure by showing how she is treated and cannot escape such treatment only retreat or get back.

    In “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” we have the opposite person, the insensitive person who has the power, the egoist, and until the tight shoe is reversed and begins to pinch hard, the unconscious victimizer. Grant.

    Again I am reminded of Austen for in her Emma what she did really was take the typical mean powerful rich type who often makes the traditional heroine’s life a misery and put her at the center, see the world from her standpoint, and sympathize with her. Emma Woodhouse is a Miss Bingley in Pride and Prejudice; and then Austen made the traditional heroine, Jane Fairfax, one of Emma’s targets. So in “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” Munro made the traditional heroine, Fiona, a target, only in “The Bear” the victim gets back—in Emma, alas Jane is all forgiveness for Emma, no it was her Jane’s fault, she who lied, and how happy she is to have good Miss Woodhouse’s countenance now. No irony from Austen I’m afraid.

    The brilliance of texts like Madame Bovary is to take the kind of woman heroine George Eliot and say Elizabeth Gaskell (in Cynthia to some extent in Wives and Daughters) would castigate (Rosemund Vincy in Middlemarch) and make her the tragic heroine, egoism, delusion, false power and all.

    So Grant is the non-heroic tragic hero and Egoist.

    Elinor    Jun 5, 7:21am    #

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