A Little Bit of Grace

10/11/2007 11:22 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Our parents and grandparents survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, WWII, and the Atomic Bomb with resolve, nobility, and hope for a better world. The 'sixties and 'seventies flourished with cutting-edge social evolution. The Civil Rights movement showed that we changed our behavior and, more importantly, our worldview. In order for our country to be true to its ethics and tenets, things had to be riled up. Even though a President, his brother, and more than one civil rights leader were slain, humanity still managed to go to the Moon.

Part of our American dream is to be able leave this life with the same optimism and confidence for tomorrow's generation that we had for our own. Our older years should ideally be a time to relax, remember, and recuperate from early mornings, late nights, and lots of overtime. But for millions of adults, the assault of Alzheimer's makes reflection and introspection impossible.

Just out on DVD is a refreshing glimpse of humanity that beckons us to look back on where we have been, whom we have touched, and what exactly love and life are all about. Based upon a short story by Alice Munro, Away from Her depicts the demands of committed marriage as it perfectly humanizes the devastation of Alzheimer's disease.

Away From Her
is the story of Fiona (Julie Christie), a 66-year-old woman living with the constant progression of Alzheimer's. The confusing, convoluted, terrifying trail it weaves through her life is told through her marriage. Her husband Grant (77-year-old actor Gordon Pinsent) fights his wife's truth nobly, until her past is so wiped away that her future becomes undeniable.

One evening she puts the frying pan away in the refrigerator. Another time, at a dinner with friends, Fiona reaches for a bottle but can't remember the word wine. She says, "I think I'm beginning to disappear."

Fiona reasons that Grant does not need to deal, or perhaps, cannot deal, with her inability to live simply and safely in their mountain home. When Grant questions her choice to move into an assisted living facility, she tells him, "I think all we can aspire to in this situation is a little bit of grace."

Through doubt, fear, and tragically bittersweet resolve, Fiona goes into the clinic called Meadowlake. She bonds with another patient, Aubrey, as her disease steals her husband, her past, and her laugh from her life.

Away From Her is an empowering film about the winter of life and the blurry line between our dreams and our ultimate reality. It's a highly evolved film from first time director and co-writer 28-year-old Sarah Polley, and a swan song of perfection from Julie Christie. Academy Awards night should very well see this film earn the best picture, actress, supporting-actress (Olympia Dukakis), director and writing statuettes. This penetrating, impassioned tearjerker doesn't waste a drop of emotion on sappiness.

Even as the mysterious disease of Alzheimer's begins to take Fiona's identity, we look back to remember our own lives and imagine those memories completely gone - meanwhile the clock tick-tocks away for all of us.

Alzheimer's strikes millions of families, stealing countless dreams and memories, and empathy forces us to desperately want to cure this disease. We have the scientific wherewithal to find a cure, but that won't happen as long as fear and fanaticism dictate our government's approach to science and research.

The United States has turned its back on the stem cell technology that is the best bet to help so many with illness like Parkinson's, cancer, and Alzheimer's. The Bush administration would rather we pray our souls raw than work to cure the diseases of age and genetics that ravage and loot many of our lives. The generation that changed the world earned the right to the best technology medical science can offer for a happy twilight.