Every good writer knows that books have got to have satisfying endings, and Tusker is a very good writer. He’s made his name as a novelist, after all—just as skilled with words as his partner, Sam, is with the keys of a piano. The two men have plied their unusual careers to a modicum of fame and a dash of fortune—enough fortune, at least, to be reasonably comfortable for a time.
In his long career, Tusker has written dozens of endings. Hundreds, perhaps.
But he would’ve chosen a different ending for himself.
Diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Tusker feels his once sharp mind growing more dull by the day. He gets lost on walks, forcing Sam to come and find him. He struggles with the buttons on his shirt, forcing Sam to dress him.
“I knew I’d be successful enough one day to have my own dresser,” Tusker quips. Sam forces a smile, because both know what’s coming. One day, Tusker will look at Sam and not recognize him. One day, maybe one day all too soon, the end will begin, not with a literary bang but with a slow, inexorable drip. Everything that Tusker is and was will slowly drain from his body, until just a shell remains.
“You’re still you, Tusker,” a friend tells him.
“No, I’m not,” he says. “I just look like him.”
But the end isn’t here. Not just yet. Tusker and Sam still have a few more pages to turn, and Tusker aims to make them good ones.
And so they plow off on a trip together in a hefty RV, through England’s beautiful lake country, where they first met. They’ll stop by Sam’s sister’s house, and they’ll visit friends and family. At the end of the road, Sam will be the star of his own piano concert—a final farewell to the stage, Sam hopes. Tusker hopes it’ll just be less a goodbye and more a triumphant return.
Tusker has a few more surprises in store, too. If he’d been the author of his own story, he wouldn’t have given himself dementia. But so be it. While he still remembers how to tell a story, he’s going to make the end of his memorable.
[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
Sam and Tusker’s gay relationship is something we have to look at from a biblical perspective, which we’ll deal with later in this review.
In the context of their relationship, the film depicts how Sam and Tusker care for each other sacrificially as Tusker declines. Sam worries incessantly about his partner’s well-being, even as he does his best to keep their relationship as “normal” as possible. He knows the minutes they have cannot be squandered, and he wants to make the most of that time.
But Sam also is looking toward the not-so-distant future, when Tusker’s mind erodes to the point that Sam will become a duty-bound caregiver. He’s admittedly terrified of the prospect. He has run through many a terrifying scenario again and again, wondering whether he can handle what’s to come.
“You know what I’ve decided?” Sam tells Tusker. “I am strong enough. I now think this is why I was put here in the first place.” He adds, “I want to see this through with you to the end.”
Sam says that he was “put on this earth” to care for Tusker. And at dinner one night, Tusker calls Sam, “My savior, my beloved and the best friend anyone could ever wish for.”
Obviously, Sam and Tusker are a gay couple, which is inconsistent with Scripture’s teaching on homosexuality.
The movie opens with Sam and Tusker in bed together. Most of Tusker’s body is covered with bedcovers, but Sam’s is not, and we see the side of his bare hip and rump. Later, the two engage some sexual activity in a darkened room. We hear and see (dimly) some kissing, and we hear some deep breathing, but it goes no further due to Sam’s grief.
The two spend other nights in bed, often in their cramped RV bed, and once in Sam’s childhood twin bed. They kiss and cuddle in bed and out of it, and they often hold hands. They recall how they first met and spent the night in Sam’s tiny car by a lake—after they had known each other for just five minutes. (Tusker admits that he’s always been impulsive.) We see Tusker without a shirt a couple of times.
Tusker doesn’t like the voice on the RV’s mapping device, saying that it reminds him of Margaret Thatcher. “First it’s section 28 and now she’s going to tell us where to go on our holiday,” he jokes. (Section 28 was a bit of legislation that banned any “promotion” of homosexuality in local schools and governments.)
Sam falls out of that tiny twin bed mentioned above, as Tusker snorts with laughter. Sam returns from a walk to find Tusker staring at a broken plate.
Which brings us to this review’s main spoiler: Tusker plans to kill himself. Sam finds the drugs his partner hopes to use, along with a suicide “note” on tape. When Sam plays the tape back to Tusker, there’s a struggle as Tusker tries to make him stop.
The last third of the film is consumed with this question—Tusker wanting to write his own end, Sam not wanting to be alone. And while Tusker’s “end” is not explicitly shown, the movie makes it clear that Tusker had the last word on the matter.
More than a dozen f-words and four s-words. We also hear the British profanity “bloody” about seven times. Jesus’ name is abused twice.
We see glasses of wine and, in at least one instance, whiskey near presumed imbibers. Tusker purposefully leaves his dementia medication at home, telling Sam it’s not doing any good anyway. But as mentioned, he does bring another vial of drugs along.
Sam says that he’s willing to be Tusker’s caregiver to the very end, telling his partner that he’ll wash him and dress him and wipe Tusker’s rear end when needed.
Some will see that Supernova is about a homosexual couple, and that’s all they’ll need to see. End of discussion.
But the movie’s themes—and problems—go deeper than its same-sex relational context (as important an issue as that may be). Sam and Tusker’s relationship is just the set-up for what the movie really wants to talk about: the desire and ability to write our own end.
Perhaps, in a way, we’d all like to dictate the end of our own stories. We all would like to say goodbye to our loved ones bravely and meaningfully. We’d like to face our ends with courage and dignity. Even if we hope that the ends of our own lives lie in the far, far distance, most of us know how we’d like our ends to read.
But, in the end (so to speak), we’re not the authors of our own story—or, at least, we shouldn’t be: God is.
Supernova is, from that perspective, a paradox: Tusker wants to die so that Sam will not be burdened. Sam wants to sacrifice his own life for Tusker—to care for him, naturally, to the end of Tusker’s days. On the surface, both act sacrificially, which (along with powerful performances from Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci) gives this movie its emotional wallop.
But from a Christian perspective, the film’s main problem isn’t its central same-gender romance or its euthanistic theme, though both are related to it. The problem is that our characters are the center of their own universe, the authors of their own destiny. They call the shots, and they feel as though they have every right to do so.
But for Christians, that’s just not so.
Oh, we have the ability to make whatever decisions we please. We are free creatures, after all. We can love whom we wish, live how we wish, die when we wish. But when we do so out of joint with God’s own wishes, we land in rebellion. Instead of “Thy will be done,” it’s “My will be done.”
It doesn’t seem that either Sam or Tusker have any great reverence for a recognized, moral deity: From where they sit, submission to an invisible God might seem preposterous. Even we Christians, in our own desire to set our own agenda, to write our own story, can bridle against God’s own authorship and authority at times. That may be especially true at “the end,” when we watch loved ones suffer. When we see them forget. When we watch them slip away not all at once, but drip by drip. These are ends we would not willingly write for anyone we love.
I suggested in a recent blog that, perhaps, these painful, slow-motion endings—those related to dementia and Alzheimer’s—are perhaps ways to prepare us to say goodbye, and to remind us that we’re not really of this world at all. I’m mindful that, as we watch our loved ones, or even ourselves, slowly drain away, drip by drip like a leaky faucet, the water from faucets doesn’t see its own end as it heads down the drain. It’s part of another journey—one that leads to rivers and lakes and oceans.
Supernova has many a problem, but its core strength is that it poignantly tells us something we already know: It’s hard to say goodbye. It’s hard to see something, or someone, we love end.
The only solace this movie offers is to make that end as quick and painless as possible. To remember the good times. To close the book with a bang. My will be done. “Being sad something is gone just means it was great while it was there,” Tusker says.
But here’s the thing: When you’re a Christian, you have a greater hope than that. We know a beautiful truth when we submit to the difficult, glorious authorship of God: What looks like an end is just a beginning. We don’t close the book: We open another.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.