Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis, the new film from director James C.E. Burke and writer Brent Boyd, is about connections: making them, losing them, coming to terms with them. It’s a smartly written, sharply observed coming-of-age drama about a 20-something slacker, played by Joshua Jackson, who can’t hold on to a job or sustain a relationship.

Having just been fired, Duncan (Jackson) is at a crossroads when he visits his ailing grandfather Ronald (Donald Sutherland in an Oscar-worthy performance) and grandmother Ruth (Louise Fletcher). Having lost his father at a young age, Duncan is desperate to help his grandfather fight the ravages of old age and Alzheimer’s disease. When a position as a handyman opens up in his grandparent’s apartment building, Duncan sees it as an opportunity to make some money and keep an eye on Ronald.

Boyd’s script turns pedestrian moments into grand statements. We’ve seen and heard all of this before, but the conviction of the cast gives the words weight. Characters talk with real life cadence, never exposing the strings of the puppet master. So when they feel good, we feel good, and when the characters are asked to go places that hurt, we feel their pain.

Sutherland is outstanding as a fine man devastated by time and disease. There’s nobility in his performance, a strong man held prisoner inside the shell of a weak one. You can see it in Sutherland’s eyes, every movement of his shaking hands. It’s heartbreaking. So is the connection Ronald makes with Duncan, who loves his grandfather so much he’s willing to crush his own soul in order to put Ronald’s at rest. Jackson perfectly captures every beat of Duncan’s heart, taking the character and us to places which make us smile and cry.

Ronald and Duncan both receive support from Kate (Juliette Lewis), Ronald’s home care provider who moved to Minneapolis at the height of the Replacements craze hoping to catch a glimpse of Paul Westerberg. It would be so easy to turn Kate into a free-spirited flake, but Lewis grounds her with honesty and sweetness. Like the rest of the characters in Aurora Borealis, Kate is also looking to make a connection, even if it means moving on to greener pastures.

That’s the hope of all the characters in the film, people who just need to move on with their lives. Duncan is stuck in the past, tortured by a memory which has shaped his life. Ronald is stuck with a fading future, while Ruth finds herself less a wife and more a care giver. Slowly the characters find their place in this universe, and the conversations and moments they share getting there make Aurora Borealis a film worth seeing.

The Lights Shine Bright in Aurora

Aurora Borealis

Joshua Jackson, Juliette Lewis, Donald Sutherland, Louise Fletcher, Steven Pasquale. Directed by James C.E. Burke. Rated R. 110 Minutes.

Larsen Rating: $7.00

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