Even though death is imminent for each of us, we don’t all get the opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones. For those who do, it may not go as smoothly as they’d imagined. This is especially true if they are choosing to end things on their own terms due to a terminal illness. Roger Michell (Notting Hill, 1999; Venus, 2006) directs this remake of the 2014 Danish film Silent Heart (directed by Bille August), both written by Christian Torpe.
Family matriarch Lily (Oscar winner Susan Sarandon) has a terminal illness, and has arranged for her family to return home for one final get-together. See, Lily, with the assistance of her doting doctor husband Paul (Sam Neill) is planning to go on her own terms, while it’s still physically possible for her to take the medicinal potion. “Death with dignity,” or euthanasia, is becoming a more frequent topic in films and conversation, despite still being illegal in most states. Of course, the legal and moral questions are heavily debated, but when it’s a family member, it’s the emotions that heat up.
First to arrive is daughter Jennifer (Oscar winner Kate Winslet) and her husband Michael (Rainn Wilson, “The Office”) and their son Jonathan (Anson Boon, Crawl). Kate is the uptight, demanding type who is always judging others – including her nerdy well-meaning husband, and her free-spirited son. The younger daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska) arrives with her partner Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus, “The Killing”), and it’s immediately clear that Jennifer and Anna are personality opposites (with some baggage), and that Anna is carrying an unspoken burden. Last to arrive is long-time family friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan), who is so close to Lily and Paul, that the family photographs show her on many family vacations and events over the years.
This has the look and feel of a stage presentation, as most of the scenes are filled with dialogue and occur within the confines of the stunning East Coast home, apparently designed by Lily. There is a family walk along the beach and dunes, but most of the run time is filled with interpersonal interactions – some pleasant, some not pleasant at all. In fact, an early (by a couple of months) Christmas family dinner is sprinkled with pot smoking and emotional outbursts. It turns out, not surprisingly, that some of the secrets previously kept, find their way out into the open causing a few bumps in Lily’s farewell weekend.
The complexities of family dynamics are amplified in this situation. Who is ready and who isn’t, and why, becomes a topic of multiple discussions. We never really learn the meaning of the film’s title, but we do enjoy the work of so many fine actors. You might recall Susan Sarandon played a dying woman more than 20 years ago in Stepmom (1998), and this movie blends two memorable and recent films: Frankie with Isabelle Huppert, and Here Awhile with Anna Camp. Saying goodbye is never easy, but it sure beats missing the chance.
Blackbird is available in theaters and on demand.