“Blackbird,” the new Susan Sarandon end-of-life drama now on VOD, is a remake of the 2014 Danish film “Silent Heart.” Equal parts heartbreaking and humorous, it’s a movie whose humanity is first and foremost.
Sarandon is Lily, a vey sick woman whose body has betrayed her. Her long battle with ALS has taken the use of one of her arms and she struggles to maintain her dignity in the face of ever declining health. A self-diagnosed A-type personality, Lily has made the decision to end her life on her own terms. With her husband Paul (Sam Neill) she has arranged one last weekend with the family, a celebration of life complete with holiday traditions.
In attendance are daughters Jennifer (Kate Winslet) and Anna (Mia Wasikowska), their significant others, husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) and girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus), grandson Jonathan (Anson Boon) and Lily’s lifelong friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan).
Lily has found a sense of comfort in her decision, but as the fateful time nears, unresolved issues arise as the children reveal they may not be accepting of her choice.
“Blackbird” is an end-of-life drama, bold in its presentation of delicate matters, that never dips into soap-opera sentimentality. With sensitivity and unexpected humor director Roger Michell transcends the disease-of-the-week genre, staging intricate scenes that allow for drama and discourse.
A Christmas dinner scene, for example, begins as a lighthearted gathering. It’s funny, warm, even romantic but deepens into something else as Lily gifts some of her prized possessions to family members. “I haven’t taken this bracelet off in 22 years,” she says, passing it along to her daughter. “I’ve never taken this wedding ring off.” It could have dipped into melodrama but Sarandon, in a tremendous performance, never allows the scene to become maudlin. It’s incredibly sad and for the members of her family, and for the viewer, it’s the moment when Lily’s decision to say goodbye becomes heartbreakingly real.
All the action in “Blackbird” happens inside Lily and Paul’s beautiful home, a powerful architectural presence that almost becomes a character on its own. On the downside the limited setting gives the movie a stagey feeling, as though we’re watching an elaborate play instead of a movie.
The lack of backgrounds, however, helps focus on the issue at hand. “Blackbird” doesn’t debate the ethics of assisted suicide or wallow in any sort of moral quandary. Instead, it celebrates life in all its multi-faceted and messy glory as the characters approach Lily’s end of life in their own, unique ways.
In its examination of the end-of-life “Blackbird” packs an emotional punch, illuminating not only Lily’s end but the entirety of a precious life well lived.