Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Farewell Party

As I mentioned in my previous post, I watched The Farewell Party, a Hebrew film with English subtitles, last weekend. The film deals with the serious issue of assisted suicide and an individual's right to die by striking a perfect balance between the kind of gravity due this solemn subject, as well as a healthy dose of humor and heart. It's a rare film that can both educate and entertain, rarer still one that can manage to do it through both laughter and tears combined, and The Farewell Party does it brilliantly. The film centers around a group of friends living at a senior citizen's retirement community that build a machine for self-euthanasia in order to help their terminally ill friend end his suffering. Despite all attempts at secrecy, as word spreads, the motley group of friends get additional requests for help, and are forced to face some serious moral dilemmas.

I absolutely loved this film. It was a bittersweet story of love and friendship that makes no qualms on its stance on its controversial subject, but regardless of where you personally stand, whether you agree or disagree, it's a film that will touch your heart, tickle your funny bone, and make you seriously ponder this important subject. A hospital visit by Yehezkel and his wife Levana, to their friend Max, suffering with terminal cancer and in agony from bed sores and the disease, sets this tale in motion when Max begs them to end his suffering. Yehezkel, an inventor of sorts with tons of gadgets of his own creation scattered throughout his home, decides to go against his wife's wishes and help Max and his wife Yana by building a Kevorkian-like machine which Max can use to self-administer a lethal cocktail of meds to painlessly end his life. After having little success with recruiting the help of a doctor also living at the retirement facility, the secret duo end up with Dr. Daniel, a veterinarian, who initially mistakenly assumes Max is a dog. The device is finally used by Max, at which time he movingly attests 'if I use this I will die, if I don't I will suffer and then I will die', leaving the group grief-stricken but at peace with their role, though that soon changes when Yehezkel is tasked with the choice of helping someone he loves.

There are countless moments of irreverent humor and heartbreaking sadness in this film. It's really such a contradiction, but it honestly, effortlessly it seems, manages to make you laugh out loud only to poignantly touch your heart and make you cry in the next moment. It's the little moments in the film that touched me the deepest, such as when Yehezkel first visits Max in the hospital and changes his diaper because the nurse refused. A profoundly humbling moment seeing a man gently caring for his old friend; with no pride or embarrassment between them, just love. Equally memorable is when Yehezkel, with a digitally masked voice, calls his friend Zelda as "God" and tries to convince her to continue with her medications, saying there's no vacancies in heaven right now. Each moment serves as a simple, yet perfect example of love and friendship in their purest form.

The moral dilemma of someone's right to die is not one likely to be decided or resolved by this film, but one nonetheless that merits serious discussion and debate. There are countless factors that can alter the equation and people's sentiments on the issue - is the person terminally ill and facing imminent death, is the person's quality of life severely diminished by a degenerative disease, such as those existing but not truly living, as the case with countless souls facing the 'long goodbye' of Alzheimer's. While I'm not 100% sure what I'd do faced with such a decision, I know that I respect someone else's choice to say enough is enough and believe with both fervor and conviction that God in his infinite wisdom and mercy would neither condemn nor forsake those who saw this as their only recourse.

Albeit a film dealing with death, The Farewell Party, equally conveys the beauty of life, love and friendship. A must-see film.