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Duncan is a depressed 20-something who has just lost another job. He makes extra money by letting out his flat for his brother's romantic trysts, but when a job comes up as a caretaker in his grandparent's building he takes it. His grandfather has Parkinson's Disease and he and his wife have a caregiver whom Duncan finds compellingly upbeat. As they begin a tentative romance, and Duncan spends more time with his grandparents, he begins to face his feelings about the early loss of his father. A moving drama, set in a frigid Minnesota landscape. Written by
Fine Ensemble Acting in a Quiet, Powerful Little Film
AURORA BOREALIS is a superb film by James Burke ('In Dark Places' and 'Tis a Gift to Be Simple') from a story by Brent Boyd ('The Green Room' and 'Crazy') and if this film is a sample of how these two fine talents collaborate, we can only hope for more. The cast assembled for this movie gives evidence that the actors deeply admire their vision: it is well deserved.
The setting is winter in Minneapolis, the hometown of the Shorter family: Grandfather Ronald (Donald Sutherland), Grandmother Ruth (Louise Fletcher), and the two grandsons Duncan (Joshua Jackson) and Jacob (Steven Pasquale). The boys' father died at age 39 (10 years prior to the opening of the story) and both boys grew up on their own, feeling deserted by a father who had been a cocaine abuser at one time. Duncan had been a champion hockey player, but when his father died his goals diminished and he has been in and out of odd jobs without a solid look at his future. Jacob runs a nursing home business and when he is not working, he is bringing his girlfriends to Duncan's flat for trysts. Duncan cares for his grandfather Ronald who has multiple illnesses (Parkinson's Disease, dementia) yet who maintains a humble life with Ruth. As Ronald's condition deteriorates, Duncan takes a handyman's job in the complex where his grandparents live and during this time the two men bond more closely than ever: Ronald's fading mind sees northern lights from his apartment window and Duncan out of love and growing understanding lets him believe they are real. Ronald is aware of his mental instability and lets Duncan know that he would like to take his life with a shotgun, an idea Duncan prevents.
Ronald and Ruth have a health care provider Kate (Juliette Lewis) whom they trust and love and encourage Duncan to seek out as a partner. Kate and Duncan date and fill the wide gaps in each other's personalities, yet when the opportunity comes for Kate to move to sunny San Diego, she is unable to make Duncan budge from his safe routine existence in Minneapolis. But as Duncan's resistance is broken down (he learns from a mentor that his father did not die of cocaine abuse, Ronald dies a natural death, etc), he views Kate as the person who can alter his outlook and his life.
Every member of this cast is extraordinary: Donald Sutherland creates a man eaten by Parkinson's Disease and dementia without ever becoming a caricature, Louise Fletcher reminds us how self-effacing her acting has always been, Juliette Lewis turns in one of her most sensitive roles, and Joshua Jackson finds every nuance of the troubled but needy Duncan and engages our empathy. Each of the smaller rolls is likewise pitch perfect, no doubt due in large part to the sensitive direction of Burke. It is so refreshing to watch a film as meaningful in message and in skillful acting as this, a movie that restores our confidence in film as art. Highly recommended. Grady Harp
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