Determined to find a way through the defining challenge of her 28-year marriage, a fiercely proactive wife comes up with an unlikely proposal to recreate the fervent spark and history of wanderlust that had always defined her relationship with her husband: a month-long adventure to destinations long on the couple’s bucket list. A bike trip through the Netherlands. A deep dive into the ancient history of Egypt. An exploration of Antarctica, ending in the pulsing metropolis of Buenos Aires. Only with one key stipulation: no intimacy, not even touching. If their forever union was to rise from the ashes, it had to prove it could rest on the merits of love, not the mirage of passion.
The swirling romantic tale—about a wife confronting a seemingly insurmountable marriage crisis—joins the couple during yet another evening of dissatisfaction. Doors slam as frustrations mount. Why did this happen? What could have been done differently? Is this truly the end? The wife’s girlfriends reach out to support her and gently encourage her to move on, to get past this, but she refuses to see the final chapter of their union conclude in this way, hatching the most improbable of plans. For their entire marriage, the couple had crisscrossed the globe together, each adventure deepening their love for each other. To recreate that spark, she proposes an Eat, Pray, Love-type of journey of discovery, only for two: a visit to bucket-list locations back-to-back-to-back, destinations that had thus far evaded them on their world travels. A bike trip through the Netherlands. A deep dive into the ancient history of Egypt. And an exploration of Antarctica, ending in the pulsing metropolis of Buenos Aires. Only with one key stipulation: no intimacy, not even touching. If their forever union was to rise from the ashes, it had to prove it could rest on the merits of love, not the mirage of passion.
Before embarking on this grand voyage to Europe, Africa, South America, and Antarctica, the wife carefully unwraps an amulet she chose specifically for the occasion. A good luck charm, a talisman, that she will wear around her neck for protection, for strength. And off they go. The Netherlands tour begins in predictable fashion: not well. Wrong turns, lost inn reservations, a spill resulting in tears that are nearly impossible to stifle. Her husband tries to intervene with assistance, but she shoos away his help. He’s terrible with directions anyway. She clutches her amulet tightly and swears things are going to get better. And slowly, they do.
The couple faces more challenges in Egypt—aggressive touts, pickpockets, a maze of medinas—but the pair meets each and every one. The more their journey unfolds, the closer they bond, and the more difficult it is to abide by her single rule. The rule starts bending. A brush of a hand. A sweep of hair off a face. Antarctica is an unexpected joy (she doesn’t even get seasick in the rough seas!) but nothing could prepare the two for Argentina and their last night. The rule shatters after a sweaty evening of tangoing—the glow has returned. They are whole again. The amulet gets tucked away for its final time, its job complete.
From the Ashes concludes with the pair on the edge of the Grand Canyon, where they had gotten engaged in the summer of 1992. She had just turned 21, her future husband 24. In a puff of smoke, no, of ash, he disappears, as she sits alone. She fulfilled her final promise to spread the last of his ashes in the cherished spot marking the beginnings of their lifetime love story.
But before the credits roll, pictures of the actual couple reveal the true story. Overcoming the death of a partner, a child, a parent, a dear friend, often requires a journey. A healing journey, one with both closure and hope. The marriage was never frayed, their love was never in question. The husband, me, had an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis, and as my disability progressed, Laura was forced to do more, and then more still. Her girlfriends were not encouraging her to move on from me, but on from my passing. Those frustrations were her internal struggles, her trying to process my death. The amulet? It contained a fragment of my ashes. Snippets of the movie replay, and viewers watch as she carefully sprinkles my ashes along the windmilled bike trails of the Netherlands, the majestic ruins of Tutankhamen, and the romantic back streets of Buenos Aires. Places we as a couple had longed to explore together, destinations seemingly forever deprived by my relentless disease. We were deprived no longer….
[And now, briefly, a completely unnecessary but necessary aside. The website Rotten Tomatoes is unwittingly spoiling—oh, the irony—the ending of many movies. It all comes down the divide between consensus of critics and that of the audience. If the movie is great and critics praise it with a Tomatometer score in the 90s, but the Audience Score scuffs along lower, say in the 60s, the film did not resolve in the way the audience wanted it to. That means at the end—even if the ending was well-crafted and appropriate—the shy guy doesn’t get the girl, the hero dies instead of escaping, happily ever after doesn’t happen. Ergo, these movie watchers walked away from the viewing with a degree of bummedness and enough expressed their disappointment with a tipped-over pail of popcorn. Happens. Every. Time. Which means no matter how awesomely From the Ashes is received by the critics, folks are going to be tipping over pails left and right when they learn at the very end that the whole two-hour flick that they just finished watching was actually about a dead dude the entire time and that their romantic reunion rooting was fruitless, hopelessly doomed. Fortunately, being nominated for an Academy Award, or multiple AAs—just spitballing, say for Best Picture, Screenplay, and Cinematography—will help blunt those artificially low audience scores.]