"...captures the tedium of government bureaucracy as well as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil"

An Almost Perfect Portrait of Living and Dying

(022423) Living is a beautifully developed, almost perfect drama about a dying autocrat who wants to one last good thing before he passes. The film was based on Akira Kurasawa’s classic film-"Ikiru" which was in turn adopted from Leo Tolstoy’s novella-"The Death of Ivan Ilych". This film differs from the works it was adapted from because it is very British and the film satirizes both the excess phony gentility in British society and it also takes Kafka like stabs at modern corporate culture. Some of the social commentary on the emptiness and dead end nature of corporate life reminded me of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. On the other hand the main theme of getting the most out of the end of your life makes the film reminiscent of David Lynch’s gorgeous, The Straight Story, another wonderfully acted drama about the last days of a man’s life (it also might be the best film Disney ever put out).

This criminally neglected little low budget film, Living (currently playing in only two Chicagoland theatres) with few viewers managed to garner Oscar nominations for best actor and best adapted screenplay, but in my opinion it also deserved nominations for both best director and film.

The star, Bill Nighy is a distinguished stage actor mostly known for his stellar work in such plays as Pravda, Betrayal, The Seagull and his Tony winning award for his work in Skylight (2015). He also had roles in films such as Shaun of the Dead and the Pirates of the Caribbean series., and some Harry Potter films. But most think he has done his best work on stage.

His character, Mr. Williams, is dignified and shows a very British restraint playing Mr. Williams who would not call attention to himself if his life depended on it. When he finally tells a former work mate about his terminal condition, he totally downplays the whole situation when he says. “ This is rather a boor, but the doctors have given me six months” as if it were just another distasteful mundane everyday happening.

Mr. Williams wants to tell his son and daughter in law about his cancer. But they seem to be barely tolerating his existence, and they are so self-involved and uncaring that when they keep putting him off, he decides not to tell them at all. They only time they do react emotionally to anything or show any concern related to him is when they find out he is spending large amounts of his money and they are afraid they might lose their inheritance.

The film is s set in stodgy 1950s London where Mr. Williams is in charge of the Department of Public Works. The men in his office are all dour (except for the new guy and one woman there) and they all wear almost identical suits and bowler hats as if they are all part of a fundamentalist cult. One of the men there even says dryly that the office is a “Bit like a church.”

He gets a lifeline when he meets up with a very free-spirited bohemian fellow named Sutherland (wonderfully played by Tom Burke) who Mr. Williams calls upon for a favor. He explains his situation and enlists Sutherland to help him get as much joy and experience out of his limited life as he can. They go to bars together, gamble, see music and talk to women but this only seems to cheer up Williams for a while.

After he stops going to his job regularly, Williams happens upon Miss Harris (Aimme Lou Wood), formerly the only cheerful member of his firm, and they have dinner. Whereas he is jaded and weather beaten she is as optimistic, wide eyed and innocent plus full of life. She confides that her secret nickname for him is Mr. Zombie They meet up a few times which inspires some gossip and although their relationship is platonic it is easy to see how he could half fall in love with her.

The film captures the tedium of government bureaucracy as well as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Employees keep shuffling off forms and requests from department to department each one trying to avoid and put off responsibility for doing anything. When Mr. Williams just decides to help a playground, request get through it is like a major breach of etiquette in an office that tries to do as little as possible. In one scene when all the employees walk in a circle in a perfect formation almost identical. This reminded me of a Busby Berkeley scene but instead of showing the joy in movement it depicts a well-oiled machine rather than individuals with different qualities.

At this time when so few truly serious films that touch an emotional chord can get a big theatrical audience, this film deserves some support and attention. I hope that with the Oscar nominations it reaches the larger audience it deserves. The film is much more powerful and had a bigger effect on me than most of the better advertised best pic Oscar noms (Avatar and Top Gun pale in comparison) and it is right up there with the best of this year’s nominees. In fact, it is better than most.

Directed by:    Oliver Hermanus
Written by:    Screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro. Based on the film
 Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and
 Hideo Oguni
Starring:    Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood, Alex Sharp
Released:    12/23/2022 (USA)
Length:    102 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for some language, drug use and sexual
Available On:    At press time playing at local theatres

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to and His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

Living  © 2023 Lionsgate UK
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.




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