Sydney Film Festival: How To Die In Oregon

A doco that\'s guaranteed to move you to tears while straingely proving life-affirming...

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Death is a difficult subject to deal with, and often hard to grasp, especially on film. How can a filmmaker attempt to relay the endless, varying emotions and personal experiences associated with death? It\'s a near impossible task. Sure, it\'s sad when Jack dies at the end of Titanic, and the opening scene of Up is as heartbreaking as they come, but it hardly takes you through all the emotions. How To Die In Oregon, a documentary by Peter Richardson, explores the Death With Dignity Act in place in Oregon, USA. It\'s an act that allows a person nearing death to take their own life and spare themselves drawn out pain and agony. But not only does Richardson explore this, but he also delves into the effect death has on those around us, and the inevitability of it, and also the joy of life that death can\'t take away.

From the outset, Richardson makes clear that this is not going to be an easy journey, showing home footage of a man taking the prescribed drugs that will send him into a coma and then end his life, surrounded by his friends and family. As he dies, he explains that it really isn\'t that bad. The film mostly follows Cody Curtis, a 54-year-old woman with terminal liver cancer, who decides that she will take advantage of her right to end her life before the bile begins to seep out of her pores and kill her slowly. Whilst the film cuts away to other stories, including a woman\'s campaign to have the Death With Dignity Act legalised in Washington after her husband suffered long and terribly, it is Cody\'s story that audiences will be unlikely to forget.

There is a strange relationship the audience has with Cody, as from the moment we meet her, we know that her time is limited and that there is no salvation we can hope for. Even though she ends up considerably surpassing her life expectancy, the inevitability of her death hangs over the film beautifully. And it is beautiful. She loves life, and is soaking up as much of it as she can with her time left, surrounded by her family who share this journey with her.

This film could have been bogged down in its inherent misery, but triumphantly, it rejoices in life and finds the peace and dignity in death that only a documentary, and not a fictional film, could find. That\'s not to say that this film won\'t leave you with a flood of tears streaming down your face, because that\'s almost guaranteed.

A clear advocate for Death With Dignity, Richardson\'s intention is clear, and the film has received some criticism for being so one-sided. There is a brief cut-away to a man who was denied insurance for his chemotherapy, but was told that his assisted suicide would be covered, revealing that the Act does have its flaws and issues. But it\'s hard to imagine someone coming out of this film and not feeling in favour of the Act, or at least in favour of it with regard to someone in circumstances like Cody.

How To Die In Oregon is a tricky film to rate or recommend because its content is too sacred and emotionally draining to simply grade, but Richardson has composed a harmonious symphony of life and death that is likely to be the most emotionally resonant film you\'ll encounter this, or any, year.

 

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