In “normal” times, Americans tend to steer clear of talking about death. But in the midst of a raging pandemic, we can hardly put our heads in the sand. That’s why the new and already award-winning* Netflix movie Dick Johnson is Dead is a must watch.
A short summary: Dick’s daughter—and the film’s director Kirsten Johnson—helps her father prepare for the end of his life. The movie is quirky, dark, funny, poignant, fantastic–and yet very, very real.
Watching this film, I laughed, cried, and felt grateful—for Dick, his daughter—and for all of us who are experiencing grief. Who are trying to figure out, in fits and starts, how to talk about each of our inevitable ends. How to live, and die, well.
Some of the film’s scenes reminded me of my own journey as my Dad aged, and eventually passed, at age 96. Almost daily, I’d wonder: is THIS the day his life will end? If it is, how will it happen? Will it be painful? Peaceful? Will I be at his bed side? What if I’m not?? (In the end, he died peacefully at home, in his sleep, and I, along with most of the family was present. If only we could all be that fortunate…)
Naturally, projecting my concern about how my Dad would die is a way to forget that I, too, will pass. After all, we usually don’t get to choose how we leave this world. I could have gone before him.
IMO, film critic Alissa Wilkinson gets it exactly right when she notes on Vox: “American culture fears death, hides it, tries to forget it’s going to happen, and goes to great lengths to stave it off. But Dick Johnson Is Dead suggests that learning to confront reminders of death, to even conjure them for yourself and examine them closely, takes some of the sting out of death and replaces it with love.”
*Critics’ Choice Documentary Award for best documentary feature and the film’s Kirsten Johnson for best director