“…In a loss, we grieve. Like poetry, dawns and twilights are the times we hold on to remember the losses in family members. We hurt when a young boy not quite in his prime passes on, and we say, “he could have had more that life can offer.” And when someone departs almost past several scores, we do not count the years. We remember what blessings he had in his youth and the wisdom he in his years foretold…”
Had it not been for the setting (FRANCE), it can pass for an American movie with high twists. It focuses on the aging and the end of life processes with so many options left for the taking. Sound choices that sometimes mar relationships thwart familial, cultural roles. The storyline brings an aged couple in their 80s. One day, at breakfast, the husband finds the wife unresponsive to verbal cues. As the man prompts for help, the woman speaks. A medical check-up reveals a clogged artery. The surgical option leaves the woman paralyzed on one side; wife prods the husband not to take her to the hospital anymore. He then takes on her care. What follows are dramatic moments of physical, emotional self-esteem deteriorating instantly as the characters cope with the toll that dependency brings. The wife succumbs to a world where pity is a vice and help is an intrusion. Their daughter, busy with her affairs in England, desires to get involved by seeking healthcare placement. Father questions her offer as no better than what he is ready to do for the wife. As the wife depreciates into the end of life, the husband embraces and lives with wife’s suffering daily. The story shifts from one forthright character to a forlorn partner paltry to the pains she has to suffer. He narrates how she moves from a cognitive to one distant in their conversations. As the wife groans in pain, he tells her a story sometime when he was young and cautions her to be quiet as he does the telling. She calms down in the process. Ends his story.
The viewers backtrack a suspended cathartic empathy as he strangles the wife with a pillow showing no remorse all throughout. He dresses her dead body, seals the door to her room. He writes letters and lays in his bed in the succeeding scenes. One touching scene rings a closure -he hears the wife calls for him, he arises from bed frail and unsteady (hallucinating?) they leave their flat. Evidently, the viewers at this point pick up the opening scene when the fire brigade forces the main door open and the wife’s sealed door.
What comes on with a big thud is the morality of euthanasia (if you can call the husband’s act as so) to encapsulate the suffering. But the American viewers will probably offer options to the couple. It was evident at one point that the husband sought help from a caregiver who he readily drops as he discovers abuse. The wife’s self-retreat and seclusion must have triggered him too not to weigh other options. Or the movie could be slapping the American viewers with a reality that nursing homes are not the place for the elderly – the family has to take on for the aging parents. It turns the culture of care institutions as no depositories for aging and sick relatives. Caring home setting similar to the husband’s deference is a sound exposition in the movie.
The big hole, however, is why were palliative care and pain management never considered as the wife was in chronic pain. Inevitably, she was deteriorating. Most American viewers will find the movie hard to elicit a cathartic effect. The options could have been played in the film (even with the lead character’s refusal) to state the reality of medical choices, which the doctor could have readily prescribed. Nevertheless, it gets the judges’ nod.
The setting becomes insignificant (most shots are in the rooms of the house ) as the viewers are engrossed in characters shaping, The director stirs in seclusion and the emotions that go with it. There is the literary use of symbols in the note writing, which the husband’s mother asked him to (draw stars when you don’t like summer camp and flowers if you do- of course, he drew stars as the pudding he so abhors continuously served in the field). In the next scene, the now stoic husband buys flowers, trims and strews them on his wife’s corpse. Apparently, he does like her death.
The symbolism all the more drives away empathy as he becomes a fallen character not worthy of sympathy. As he writes, (happy with the flowers) doves swerve in (their symbol has been used for life everlasting, resurrection, peace, purity). Coming into the room one at a time, he strangles the stray doves one after another The device I get to mean the wives letting him to breathe life despite the loss but shuts his mind to it as he chose to end the two chances he was offered. The viewers the films asks – natural death with suffering or euthanasia, take your pick.