All of us know we’re going to die, but should the timing be in our hands? Or is it best to let the nature of God’s timing take its course?
Starring Susan Sarandon and Sam Neill, Blackbird is about Lily and Paul, a couple who summon their family to their lush beach house to send off Lily before she euthanise’s herself in the latter stages of ALS. Lily’s two daughters Jennifer (Kate Winslet) and Anna (Australia’s Mia Wasikowska) have differing views about Lily’s decision, and family tensions arise when old wounds surface and everyone has to reconcile their views with Lily’s wishes.
The weekend is a melting pot of awkward small talk and coffee making to distract from the seriousness of what’s happening, along with faux family celebrations to elevate Lily’s spirits and attempt to bond those left behind.
Blackbird’s ensemble cast do well to capture the emotions of a family respectfully trying accept loss, but also leave us with a very superficial take on the truly complex issue of assisted dying.
Lily’s main reason for pursuing euthanasia is motivated by a desire to go out with dignity and not lose all her faculties before she dies. She doesn’t want the pain of it and doesn’t want her family to remember her in that way. Choosing to end her life is more about risk assessment than holding to a certain virtue.
Largely, the characters in Blackbird see life as something you have a good crack at and enjoy the best you can, until it’s time to go. The dilemma of Lily’s choice isn’t about whether or not what she’s doing is ‘right’ but whether or not her family are willing to let her leave them.
In trying to have this perfect last weekend, Lily’s legacy is questioned as she confronts how she perceives her role as mother, versus how her children view it. Has the relationship she’s built with them up to this point been enough, or will her death leave it lacking? Anna in particular doesn’t want Lily to choose death over deeper relationships with her daughters, but how do you bring that up on someone’s last day?
Although euthanasia is a nuanced topic with vast moral, ethical and spiritual considerations that come in to play, Blackbird presents a very narrow view of the conversation. It focuses specifically on the aspects of pain-avoidance and dignity, and even in choosing the pristine surrounds of a modern beach house for its set, simplifies as issue that’s often worked out over hospital beds and in the stale corridors of nursing homes.
When you reduce euthanasia to Blackbird’s view, the question that comes to mind is whether or not pain can serve a purpose. The burden of suffering is not an easy or pretty one, but how do we decide when it should and shouldn’t be avoided? What are the parameters of our power to choose?
Blackbird is in cinemas now.