Sunday, May 22, 2011
TrustMovies is not going to bet the farm on whether Peter Richardson's thoughtful and moving documentary HOW TO DIE IN OREGON will be the "best" of the year -- artistically and awards-wise, that is -- but he will go on record as saying that there is unlikely to be a more important film than this one. So, what's the deal about dying, and why in Oregon? Because, back in 1994, that state became the first in the U.S. to make legal the practice of a physician bringing aid-in-dying to the terminally ill and those in unbearable pain. At that time only Switzerland and the Netherlands offered this kind of help. Since then other countries have joined in, as have our own states of Washington and Montana.
Sundance Film Festival, the film begins with a death -- but is otherwise remarkably full of life (even from those whose death is imminent). As the film begins, we see an old man (shown below), of whom we know nothing more than he seems to be about to drink a potion that will result in his death. Surrounded by friends, family, and his doctor, he is asked if he fully understands what he is about to do. He does, and he says so. Goodbyes are bid, he drinks, and as he slips into a coma, he sings a few strains of "Old Black Joe." Though we hardly know him, this scene is quietly staggering, and I think the only misstep of director Richardson (shown above) is that the very next song on the soundtrack, almost immediately after, sounds unbearably "kitchy" and uselessly sentimental, given what we've just seen and heard.
Compassion & Choices, a group dedicated to improving care and expanding choice at the end of life, and through her we meet other dying patients determined to make their exit a more humane and comfortable one.
Initiaitve 1000 and meet Nancy Niedzielski (shown center, above), a feisty woman whose husband Randy (shown healthy at left, and not so at right) died a horrible, painful death because, being a legal resident of Washington rather than Oregon, he was not able to obtain aid in dying. Nancy dedicates her life to getting her state aboard the aid-in-dying platform, and we viewers follow along hopefully.
HBO at 3:50am and 8pm. Other playdates: Sunday, May 29, at 11am; Saturday, June 4, at 10:15am; Tuesday, June 7, at 12 am and 2:30 pm; and Monday, June 13, at 10am. On HBO2, see it Tuesday, May 31 at 10am; Wednesday, June 1, at 8pm and Tuesday, June 14, at noon.