“Parkinson’s is described as a progressive idiopathic neurodegenerative disorder, a brain disease that will worsen with time for which no cause has as yet been identified”
Set in the coldness of the Canadian landscape—with its bleak and hopeful conservatism against the elements—comes a struggle of physical decay matched only by the resilience of one woman’s resolve to abstain from the burden of her condition on her son and the community that surrounds. A deeply unsettling film when we consider the perils of euthanasia today and the strength that people display in the face of physical and neuro-degeneration. It stands on the other side of the description Ivar Lovass gave to Psychology Today in the ‘70s concerning autism: a person in every way psychologically able, but not in any sense in the physical. As Guy Lodge (Variety) rightly notes, it’s the serenity and stoic brokenheartedness that gets you in this debut from Canadian writer-director Kathleen Hepburn.
Never Steady, Never Still tells the story of a mother’s (Shirley Henderson) struggle to take control of her life in the face of advanced Parkinson’s disease, while her son (Théodore Pellerin) battles his sexual and emotional identity amongst the violence of Alberta’s oil field work camps. Deeply reminiscent of films like Polley’s Away from Her, Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and Amenábar’s A Sea Inside — Hepburn’s debut is also rich with flickers of brilliance reminiscent of Haneke’s Amour or Terrence Malick’s poetic storytelling. In the face of mindless entertainment that is meant to distract us from the day-to-day concerns that deserve our attention, these films help restore the vision of the audience to consider the words of Solomon:
Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
[Ecclesiastes 12: 1-7]
It is an all too common shame that Henderson (yes, Moaning Myrtle) did not receive the praise she deserved (single nomination at the Canadian Screen Awards) for her poignant portrayal, despite the much deserved praise that Hepburn earned at the Canadian film festivals with this promising debut. Had she focused more on the type of cinematography and storytelling that she offered during scenes driven by poetic voiceovers, or the moving scenes inside those therapy groups, this film would have been truly impressive. However, the son and his fluctuating sexual odyssey proved too much of a distraction to support creatively the overall design.