Have you seen the new documentary on Netflix Dick Johnson is Dead?
If you’re even glancing at a blog post on I Want a Fun Funeral, this has got to be right up your alley.
86-year old Dick Johnson has just begun a dementia decline, and his filmmaker daughter, Kirsten Johnson, proposes they make a movie — for fun — of different ways he could end up dying, from the freak accident to totally ordinary. The man is truly the best sport ever; he is up for anything and everything, in the most good-natured way possible. He is so lovable.
In this process, which was at least a year, I think, you witness his cognitive decline, and though it’s sad, it’s not maudlin. In fact there’s so many funny and fantasy-like scenes that you never get caught up in too much emotion. This lack of over-sentimentality is what makes it so thought provoking. Without being ‘distracted’ by the relationships themselves, you automatically gravitate towards a more universal perspective of facing death, and not as a concept, but as real life.
It wasn’t clear to me if there was one major point of the film. Which was actually a gift (and perhaps the intent), as it made me dig deeper to figure out what I was feeling, and why. And I think that’s where its greatest impact lies… that you kind of have to decide for yourself what it means, what you want it to mean for you. Aging, decline, mortality — it’s all there for the taking. The family relationships hold the story together, yet I continued to probe the why of it all: Really… why did this daughter engage her father in such goofiness in his last remaining years?
So my takeaway was that the daughter wanted to find a way to enjoy this last segment of her father’s life; not just endure it. Make it as special and cheerful as possible, especially given that it’s typically the opposite. For both of them. And what an unmitigated success that was! To see such delight occurring on a regular basis was inspirational and heart-warming.
And because this is my personal death view, I also saw that she was taking the topic of death and making it normal. Part of life… let’s roll with it… there’s nothing here to be afraid of, avoid, or deny. I thought I was already 100% on board with that, but this adventure took it up a notch for me. She went beyond acceptance into full-blown embracing. She had fun with it. What joy.
A week after seeing it and I’m still musing over what Dick Johnson is Dead had to offer. No surprise, since death talk will do that. It’s a welcome point of view, to contemplate impending death in such an upbeat way. I’m finding myself increasingly open to more way to put a friendly face on the dying process. That’s a creative challenge! In the end, nothing will take away the pain of her father’s death when he finally passes, but to have made the path there so rich and memorable is quite the powerful undertaking.
We need more films like this! Ones that encourage us to see death differently, proposing wild new ways to befriend it and go as peacefully as we can down the path. Lace those tears with laughter, my friends.