Let There Be Lights
Aurora Borealis tells a touching story about love, loss, aging, family and everything else important in life. Joshua Jackson, Donald Sutherland, Louise Fletcher and Juliette Lewis are all absolutely terrific in this memorable -- almost spiritual -- coming-of-age drama that takes place in a wintry Minneapolis setting.
Jackson (The Skulls) becomes a major screen presence with his sensitive and charismatic performance here. He plays Duncan Shorter, a charming 25-year-old who can’t seem to keep a job. Still suffering from the death of his father ten years ago, Duncan is reluctant to find out the truth about how this tragedy happened. He hangs out with his friends, plays hockey with them once in awhile, and drifts aimlessly through each day.
During a visit to his grandparents at their senior residence, Duncan takes a handyman job there to be near his grandfather, Ronald Shorter (Donald Sutherland), who is rapidly deteriorating from Parkinson’s Disease. Sutherland (Pride & Prejudice) broke my heart with his poignant interpretation of Ronald. If it doesn't earn him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor this year, I'll be very surprised and disappointed.
The two men form a close bond, not simply because they both miss Duncan’s father but also because of the support they provide each other. Duncan takes Ronald outside “to blow the stink off,” and Ronald becomes Duncan’s matchmaker by encouraging his relationship with Kate (Juliette Lewis), a spunky health care worker assigned to assist Ronald at home. Ruth (Louise Fletcher), Duncan’s grandmother, also welcomes his visits because, although she loves her husband dearly, he’s a handful.
Failing mentally as well as physically, Ronald often talks enthusiastically about seeing the Northern Lights, technically called the aurora borealis, when he looks at the city of Minneapolis from his balcony at night. This electrical phenomenon involves colorful streamers of light in the sky above the northern magnetic pole. Everyone doubts Ronald’s accounts, believing this gorgeous sight only appears to people living in northern parts of Canada and Alaska. But Ronald, who knows his life is almost over, loves gazing at the “lights” he sees and pondering what they represent.
Meanwhile, Kate brings some welcome light and color into Duncan’s life. Both have an off-beat sense of humor, and they are intensely attracted to each other. However, Kate is a free spirit who flies from town to town, whereas Duncan seems afraid of responsibility and of anything outside Minneapolis. How long can their love affair last? Because Jackson and Lewis share such sweet on-screen chemistry, we can’t help hoping the characters they play will never be apart.
Aurora Borealis is one of those rare films where all the elements come together so well it’s like a cinematic miracle. Directing, writing, cinematography, acting, background music, editing, etc. are first-rate. But it’s the emotional impact, the way this movie makes you feel, that impressed me the most. You come to know and love the main characters despite their faults; in fact, you even want to hug each one of them. And, motivated by Ronald Shorter, you begin to wish for beautiful lights -- whether others see them or not -- to help you face the critical phases of your own personal journey.
(Released by Regent Releasing and rated “R” for language.)