Following the final week of Bob, a 65-year-old Jewish New Yorker who has lived for years with Parkinson’s has had enough of the pain and is keen to utilise Washington State’s Death with Dignity law.
There have been a few films set around ‘Death with Dignity’ released over the past few years, yet it still very much feels like it is a taboo subject. With Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s excellent documentary Man on Earth, we get an eye-opening glance at assisted suicide with his delicate portrait of the fearless Bob Rosenzweig.
For a man with seven days left, Bob finds that he has too much and too little time left. He is struggling with how limited he is in his current state, so at times minutes feel like hours. Whereas on the other side, there is a real urgency to get tasks completed, to say goodbye to loved ones. To make sure the boxes have been ticked regarding the process of his assisted death. By never leaving Bob’s side, we see all of his thoughts and emotions during these moments, which is utterly fascinating to watch.
Be it seeing his differing relationships with his two sons or learning about his past. This man transfixes us. So when moments come to the fore that devastates him, it hits us just as much. That decision to keep the camera on Bob throughout is pivotal to the film’s success. Never does any of this come across as exploitative, and thanks to that, have to go in the direction of Australian filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson.
Our subject in all of this, Bob, also alleviates any fears of this with how he tackles everything; he is an absolute character. For a film tackling such a sombre topic (when the film hits the emotional sledgehammer, it swings it as hard as possible), Man on Earth is rife with moments of humour, kindness and utter warmness. All of which is thanks to Bob. His personality is so infectious that you would be forgiven for having anger in you that we are losing someone like him way too soon.
Bob is a man who has lived as full a life as possible, sneaking off to Woodstock at 15, hanging out and working with the most famous people imaginable. He has seen and done more than many of us ever will, yet this life that should continue for many more years has untimely been curtailed by a horrible disease. Though we are losing him, we need to remind ourselves to be thankful that even just for 90 or so minutes, we got to meet him. He radiates through the screen better than some written characters ever could.
As we get closer to the end of the film, it becomes both an uncomfortable and meditative experience. We watch Bob receive the medication that will end his life, and we never leave him until that last breath. We have been with him for this entire week, and Courtin-Wilson isn’t going to leave him now, and rightfully so.
This extremely raw moment shows us the importance of voluntary dying, which is one that fictionalised stories can never compare to. For those who have experienced seeing the last moments of a loved one, it may reawaken old wounds, but similarly, as in my case, it somehow eases you. You see how the suffering has eased and how the person, in this case, Bob is finally in a relaxed state, a place they may have long not been in.
For all of the emotion that runs through Man on Earth for those previous 90 minutes, it is the calm and gentleness of those final moments that stay with you. While he is peacefully passing away, you never forget how much of a powerhouse of a person Bob Rosenzweig was. Courtin-Wilson has conjured a wonderfully careful portrait that pulls you through all the possible emotions, leaving you in a stunned and contemplative state.
Man on Earth is as honest a film as you will come across. So committed to its subject from beginning to end, a film that is as much about detailing voluntary dying as it is a terrific portrait of a fascinating person. A must-watch.
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