Monday, September 14, 2020

Movie with Abe: Blackbird

Directed by Roger Michell
Released September 18, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

Most people aren’t able to control the way that they leave this world. Death is usually something that can’t be foreseen, or at least not predicted to an exact moment or a circumstance that feels right. Accidents and disasters occur to cut life short, and illness takes many at a young age. There may be a progression that permits someone to notice the way in which their quality of life is changing. This can in turn prompt them, in certain situations, to make arrangements to be able to choose when it is that they want to die, rather than waiting for the inevitable.

Lily (Susan Sarandon) is suffering from ALS and has decided that she no longer wants to live knowing that her body will deteriorate as a result of her disease. Before she ends her life, she wants to spend one last weekend with her family at her beach house with her doting husband Paul (Sam Neill). That includes her straight-laced older daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet), her impossibly dull son-in-law Michael (Rainn Wilson), and their free-spirited son Jonathan (Anson Boon), her younger, more rebellious daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska) and her girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus), and her lifelong best friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan). Lily may be ready to say goodbye, but there are a host of complicated sentiments that emerge in different ways over the course of the weekend.

This film is brimming with talent, led by the dependable Sarandon, whose qualifications for this role, which she plays with ease, are well-established. Winslet in particular is almost unrecognizable as the uptight Jennifer, who believes she can control everything around her, something that stands in direct opposition to the freewheeling and less stable Anna, played by the always passionate Wasikowska. Wilson does well with a bit of drama, which isn’t his usual genre, while Neill and Duncan are strong in quieter roles. Taylor-Klaus and Boon stand out in parts that don’t seem central to the story but are memorable as a result of the actors’ energy.

This film’s subject is of particularly interest to me not as a film critic but as the spouse of someone who works in the end-of-life space and frequently teaches on physician-assisted death. This film makes clear that it is not legal for Lily to take a prescription that will induce death where she lives, but, thanks in part to Paul being a doctor, she has been able to procure one that she knows will enable her a painless and finite end. Lily exhibits a true satisfaction knowing that she has arranged a way to go out on her own terms, a decision that does not sit well with any of her family members, even if they disagree about why it is that they don’t like it and how it is at odds with the values she has taught them. This remake of the 2014 Danish film “Silent Heart,” which I have not seen, manages to be both sobering and entertaining, tackling a taboo subject with gravitas.


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