‘Blackbird’ faces death and family response as terminally ill woman plans to end her own life

Photo courtesy of Falco Inc

A new remake of a Danish film weaves together drama and humor as a woman brings her family together one last time before she ends her life.

The 2019 film “Blackbird” follows the story of Lily (Susan Sarandon), who is terminally ill with ALS. She, with the support of her husband Paul (Sam Neill), decides to end her life on her own terms. The film, directed by Roger Michell (“My Cousin Rachel,” “Notting Hill”), is a remake of the 2014 Danish film “Silent Heart,” which first premiered at San Sebastián International Film Festival that year and was nominated for 2015 Nordic Council Film Prize.

The decision for Lily to end her life is made before the film opens. She and her husband decide to bring their loved ones out to their country home for one final weekend gathering, but the family’s response to Lily’s decision doesn’t particularly fall in line with Lily’s choice to end her life. Her daughters Jennifer (Kate Winslet) and Anna (Mia Wasikowska) try to maintain a brave face for their mother, however their unresolved conflicts threaten to bring down what was meant to be a peaceful farewell. The film officially premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and has earned a 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

At the start of the film, it is clear that Lily is suffering from the illness, with limited use of her legs and no use of her left arm. She is clearly frustrated with her inability to control her body, which ultimately led to her making the decision to end her life before she lost more control of her body. Saradon’s performance gives a convincing portrayal of her character’s struggles while coming to terms with her decision.

Throughout the weekend, the family reaches different levels of acceptance with the situation, though not without some rocky roads getting there. While Winslet’s character is completely uncomfortable with her mother’s decision, she is willing to go along with the decision to support her mother. Wasikowska’s character, on the other hand, plans to call 911 after everyone leaves following the gathering to report a suicide attempt, which ultimately brings the two sisters’ ongoing conflict to a head.

While the word “euthanasia” is never explicitly said in the film, the characters do not shy away from talking about Lily’s decision when she is not in the room. Neill’s character, who is a doctor, discusses the method and decision with his grandson Jonathan (Anson Boon), who had been mostly kept in the dark about the situation. However, the conversation with Saradon’s character about her decision brings a slightly somber tone to their Christmas celebration.

Though the film is a drama, it isn’t without those small family moments that bring humor into even the darkest situations. The script does not shy away from using Lily’s decision to end her life as a punchline, with at one point Saradon’s character calling for family members to come downstairs because she’s “dead soon, are you coming down?” as well as funny bits around the table while the family celebrates one last Christmas together. The bits of humor weaved into the narrative gives the film a sense of realism and makes the gathering more relatable, like this family could be one that you encounter in your own life.

“Blackbird” will premiere in theaters and on demand on Sept. 18. 

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