“Death is not a cosmic mistake. Woven into the warp and woof of existence, the presence of death deepens our appreciation of life. It also regenerates our psyches in preparation for harvesting. The more we embrace our mortality not as an aberration of God and nature, but as an agent urging us on to life completion, the more our anxiety transforms into feelings of awe, thanksgiving, and appreciation.”
—- Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of Sage-ing International
Living is a British drama directed by Oliver Hermanus from a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) that was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 masterpiece film Ikiri. This intricate and intimate character drama takes place in 1950s London where Rodney Williams (Bill Nighy) is a senior London County Council bureaucrat who has never missed a day of work. He and his four co-workers are in charge of approving public works projects, but they mostly seem to shuffle files from one pile to another. The four regard the stern and dour Williams to be an odd loner. As a result, they know little about him.
When Williams learns from his doctor that has incurable cancer, he is so shocked at the news, he is unable to tell his son (Barney Fishwick) and daughter-in-law (Patsy Ferran) about his imminent death. Instead, he goes to the bank and withdraws half of his life savings.
Williams travels to a seaside resort where he intends to commit suicide. In a restaurant, he hears the plight of an insomniac writer (Tom Burke) and gives him all his sleeping pills. These two strangers bond by sharing their stories and spending the night drinking and dancing in crowded arcades and nightclubs. Williams surprises his new friend by singing a melancholic song, “The Rowan Tree,” a Scottish folk song from his childhood.
Director 0liver Hermaneus has done a remarkable job drawing out an Academy-Award caliber performance from Bill Nighy as the quiet-spoken soul who discovers that facing and accepting our mortality is a doorway to self-discovery. His end-of-life experiences are given meaning and purpose by surprising new relationships. After one of his former co-workers, Margaret Harris (Aimee Lou Wood), asks him for a recommendation, the two go for a walk. As their friendship develops, she serves as a bearer of light and love into his life. Seeing the world and his former life with fresh eyes, Williams finds a way to help a group of compassionate women turn a bombed-out piece of property into a playground for children.
Living is a poignant drama whose emotionally rich ending will take your breath away and leave you with gratitude for people who succeed in turning their lives around.
“Existence will remain meaningless for you if you yourself do not penetrate into it with active love, and if you do not in this way discover its meaning for yourself. Everything is waiting to be hallowed by you.”
—- Martin Buber