How to Die in Oregon (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★
In 1994, Oregon was the first state in the United States to legalize physician-assisted suicide. “How to Die in Oregon,” directed by Peter Richardson, took the issue of euthanasia and cogently argued that although one should always question whether he or she should go through it, it should never be feared. In other words, choosing to die needed to be a practical decision. Its first few minutes instantly grabbed my attention. We watched Sue Porter, one of the most active Compassion & Choices volunteer in the state, handing a glass filled with white liquid to an elderly man. Surrounded by his family, the man took the glass, gulped the substance, and claimed it tasted “woody.” Before he slipped into a coma, he expressed his gratitude and love for his family. There was a calmness among everyone as it happened. Though I was far from calm, I understood that perhaps the passing was harmonious because the sick man had accomplished everything he felt he needed to do before choosing to end his life. I liked that the film didn’t result to extremes in order to get its points across. The subject was polemical enough; there was no use in creating a bigger chasm between those who supported the issue and those who didn’t. Instead, it spent its time explaining the main differences between physician-assisted suicide and Death with Dignity Act. The former involved a doctor physically putting a substance into his patient’s body while the latter allows the patient to administer the drug into himself. I admired the film because the director unwaveringly treated the issue and those dealing with it, voluntary or otherwise, with respect. Those who argued against Death With Dignity Act were not portrayed as crazy people who shouted obscenities against supporters during a rally. Their concerns needed to be addressed and their questions should be answered. The film followed two women who had a lot of fight in them. First, there was Nancy Niedzielski who promised her husband before he died that she would help legalize Death with Dignity in Washington state. He died naturally from a brain and spinal cord cancer and all the pain and suffering that came with it. One of the most shocking details in his battle was his change in appearance in a span of one year. He looked pretty young a year before his body succumbed to the disease. Days before his passing, he looked like an eighty-year-old man. Second, there was Cody Curtis, a fifty-four-year-old woman with a pear-sized tumor on her liver. We watched her change from exuding so much life up to when she decided her life was no longer worth living. It felt very personal because we went to her doctor’s appointments, got to know her family, and discovered some of the things she needed and wanted to do before she died. I thought she and her family were very brave. Cody’s enthusiasm and strength reminded me of my mom. If my mom had cancer and she was given an estimate of the number of months she had left to live, I’m not sure if I can handle it. But one thing is for sure: if or when Death with Dignity becomes legal all over the country, I’ll be happy she’ll have a choice if or when she’s going to go through with it. I support euthanasia, Death with Dignity being one of its subtypes. It continues to bother me that a lot of people welcome (sometimes very enthusiastically) the idea of convicted felons being lethally injected yet they oppose the idea that suffering people should have a say on deciding when their lives are no longer worth living. For me, it’s never okay to force someone to die just because the law says so. I don’t care if it’s the law of the land. I don’t care if it’s the “law” of religion. It feels immoral to me. But to have an unlocked door available because a person no longer wants to suffer from an unmanageable pain (despite the best drugs) and untreatable disease? That’s a choice everyone should have.
★★ / ★★★★
Enoch (Henry Hopper), nicely dressed in a black suit to go with his solemn demeanor, took the city bus to attend a boy’s memorial service. But he didn’t know the deceased. We came to know that dropping in on strangers’ memorials was a hobby of his. Pixie-haired Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) noticed Enoch and approached him. She knew the boy who died from cancer because she claimed that she volunteered at the hospital. As they got to know each other over a few days, she revealed to him that she, in fact, did not work at the hospital. She had cancer and the doctor gave her about three months to live. Written by Jason Lew and directed by Gus Van Sant, “Restless” aimed to tell a story about two people who came to appreciate life a little bit more by being on the verge of death, but the pacing was so mired in syrupy slow motion that it didn’t get a chance to truly take off. Enoch and Annabel were interesting characters because of their curiosities. Due to his parents’ passing and being in a coma for days or weeks, he was drawn to the dead, or the concept of it anyway. Though he won’t admit to it, he exhibited fear and a little bit of rage when he got too close. His only friend was a ghost, a Japanese kamikaze named Hiroshi (Ryo Kase). They spent most their time playing Battleship and throwing rocks at trains. In some ways, his eccentricities were nicely handled. Because he was closed off, despite his Aunt Mabel (Jane Adams) reminding him that she was always available to talk, we could sympathize with his occasional fits of anger and frustration even though they were often misdirected. Annabel, on the other hand, loved life and everything it had to offer. She was particularly interested in Charles Darwin and ornithology. She always talked about a species of bird that thought it died every time it turned night. When morning came, it would sing songs because it was happy just to be alive. She saw herself in that bird. Though she tried to be positive, her illness limited what she could become. Watching her made me wonder how I would react if I was given news that I had a terminal disease and I only had a certain amount of time to live. I’m not so sure I’d take it as gracefully. I liked watching Annabel for her bravery even though she thought there was nothing especially courageous in facing illness. Unfortunately, when Enoch and Annabel were together, it was like being stuck in a stuffy room with a couple who just couldn’t help but give each other kisses after every other sentence. It was nauseating. There a shot in the film where Hiroshi stood from several feet away and had this look of disgust toward the couple. It wasn’t meant to be funny but I laughed because it was exactly how I felt. It was strange that the material was more romantic when the two protagonists were apart rather than when they were together. While I understood that they needed to love each other in order to realize, especially Enoch since he possibly had many years ahead of him, the value of self-love and loving others sans romantic way, we, as well as the characters, deserved so much better. We didn’t learn until much later on, what kind of cancer Annabel had, an example of the picture’s main problem: it consistently gave us skeletal information but reluctant to delve into the marrow. As a result, it felt as though “Restless” was simply going through the motions for much of its running time. What it needed was fire to grab us and keep us transfixed.
Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
★★ / ★★★★
Based on Joe Connelly’s memoir, “Bringing Out the Dead” was about a paramedic named Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) who increasingly became out of touch with reality after several sleepless nights and increasing guilt involving a girl he failed to rescue. I liked the film’s first half but I was very put off by the second half. What I thought the first hour of the picture was strong because it captured the reality of how it was like to be a paramedic in the city. I liked the way Martin Scorsese, the director, highlighted the grittiness and ugliness of city life and putting his characters in the middle of a sea of negative emotions. The way the paramedics dealt with their patients were sometimes very sad, sometimes amusing, and sometimes maddening because the ethical codes were not always followed. The way they numbed themselves by means of making jokes out of serious situations were interesting defense mechanisms to observe. Unfortunately, the second half consisted of way too many scenes in which Cage’s character experienced hallucinations. I understood that he was guilt-ridden but I felt like the hallucinations were very distracting and it took away the picture’s sense of momentum. Maybe Scorsese wanted to contrast those fantastic elements with realism but I did not think it worked to the movie’s advantage. Those scenes went by so slowly and I became very frustrated. I also did not like the romantic angle between Cage and Patricia Arquette. It felt forced because they did not have any sort of chemistry. “Bringing Out the Dead” features a main character who is very flawed and at times unlikable but those are the qualities that made me interested in him. He took his job seriously so he was very hard on himself, which were most prominent when he drove around in an ambulance with another paramedic (John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore). This film is definitely not for everyone because it doesn’t really have a defined plot. It’s more of a peek on a man’s life and how he swallowed the elements of the job he hated such as the deaths and dying people. Set mostly at night, Cage’s narration while patrolling the streets reminded me of “Taxi Driver.” Unfortunately, “Bring Out the Dead” isn’t as strong and isn’t as focused. At least it had good performances.
21 Grams (2003)
★★ / ★★★★
“21 Grams,” written by Guillermo Arriaga and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, tells the story of a dying patient (Sean Penn), a mother (Naomi Watts) and an ex-convict (Benicio Del Toro) and how their lives collided in one tragic afternoon. The first time I saw this movie back in 2003, I wasn’t impressed. Seven years later, I decided to see it again because both critics and audiences liked it so maybe I just missed something. Unfortunately, I was right the first time. I’m not much of a fan of movies that try to tell their stories out of order unless they’re done extremely well because I think there’s just an innate narcissism in that technique. Instead of focusing on the story, the audiences become distracted and that’s exactly how I felt as I navigated my way through this picture. I was not convinced at all that the technique was necessary to enhance the experience because I’ve seen the same kind of plot time and again. However, even I have to admit that performances from the three leads were very strong. The actors were successful in implementing layers to their characters and it was great how sometimes their body languages were more expressive than the words they’ve spoken. I was particularly fascinated with Watt’s character: how she dealt with the loss of her family and how she almost regressed to the time in her life when the only way she knew how to cope was to drown herself in drugs and alcohol. I empathized with her character and I wanted her to overcome all the pain she had to bear. I also liked the look of the film because not only did it look like it could take place in the real world but the feeling it had highlighted the characters’ struggles. Their mental states reflected their surroundings such as a dingy hotel room, a house lacking in color, or an impersonal room in a hospital. I appreciated those details because I felt like the writer really put some thought into the material. Unfortunately, I just can’t recommend the film because it got too caught up in its own gimmick. Instead of really honing in on the themes and ironies of the picture, it was too focused on making the precise places where to cut to take us to a different scene and then coming back to it later when our feelings of anticipation have been somewhat diminished. If this had been told in a linear way, I think some of the clutter wouldn’t have been there. I also would have liked it if the film had tackled the issue of 21 grams a lot earlier instead of stapling it in the end. In fact, it almost felt as though it was footnote. “21 Grams” might impress people who haven’t seen a lot of movies like it, but I thought it was just mediocre despite the daring performances.