A Wry Comedy About Dying
Life comes with no guarantees, nor does death. However, the need to choose when and how one dies remains a sociological and cultural issue. Laws about self-assisted suicide can be navigated with help from family, if members agree. Pink Moon, an intriguing film directed by Floor van der Meulen from a script by Bastiaan Kroeger, examines this issue with humor and pathos.
Jan (Johan Leysen) plans his death extensively, thoughtfully. In top physical condition for one his age, he has everything one can imagine in life. So, he reasons, he can check out with satisfaction.
We first meet Jan when he invites his adult children for dinner to inform them of his decision. Ironically, Jan does not expect their agreement to be a problem. For him the circumstances are simple. He wants to check out of life on or around his 75th birthday, some months away. But over dinner, Iris (Julia Akkermans), her older brother Ivan (Eelco Smits), and Ivan’s wife don’t receive his news in a spirit of celebration.
This wry comedy, which had its world premiere in the International Narrative Competition at Tribeca Film Festival 2022, raises pointed questions about death. First, it examines the concept of choice. As adults we make life decisions. Why not make rational decisions about dying? Why avoid something as natural as sunrise? Instead of becoming ill and a burden, check out before the pain and suffering comes. This is a prime reason Jan gives for his choice. Thus, the film tackles the philosophical as well as the practical nature of dying. Indeed, it can be pleasant with family around and in agreement on the day one’s life finishes – perhaps!
A Personal Film
Interestingly, Pink Moon is personal for all who see it. It makes one think of one’s parents if they’re alive and especially if they’ve died. Both Iris and Ivan question their father’s judgment. He reassures them that because he feels healthy and enjoys his success and prosperity, he believes he can leave at the top of his game. Besides, he’s had enough. He doesn’t want to continue past his birthday. Finally, at the end of the dinner, Ivan who has children and a wife who redirect him away from the father’s dying conundrum, accepts Jan’s decision. On the other hand the shocked and upset Iris refuses to understand her father’s wishes. Instead, she feels abandoned and alone.
Much of the film negotiates the father-daughter relationship and the bonds between them, beautifully enacted by Akkermans and Leysen. Almost perfunctorily, Jan shares the method he will use to end himself. No one mentions suicide. Jan appears surprisingly stoic and unemotional about not experiencing his grandchildren as teenagers or walking down the aisle with Iris at her wedding. From his point of view, the dying process relates to him alone, for Iris and Ivan cannot die with him. Having already died in his thoughts, he disassociates himself from his role as a father, grandfather, friend or husband of his deceased wife.
Self-Possessed and Accepting Death
With matter-of-fact courage Jan becomes the possessor of his own soul. He accepts death and does not “rage against the dying of the light” as in the Dylan Thomas poem. His decision can’t be reviewed or rescinded.
With his death only months away, he instructs Iris and Ivan to choose which of his household belongings they’d like. Another time, he says, they will arrange his funeral, burial, sale of the house and all the mundane tasks that follow the end of life. These aspects, instead of following the death, will precede it. All will be tied up with a neat ribbon and bow with no argument, muss or fuss.
We watch the siblings and father negotiate the process of letting go. Iris and Ivan tag items they want with red and green stickers, with wry levity. Sometimes, they choose the same treasured item. Gradually, they attempt to accustom themselves to what will happen. Humorously, Jan even goes through a practice session where he sleeps in front of Iris and Ivan, acting dead to familiarize them with his body’s immobility.
The growing reality of his coming death compels us to want him to live. Ivan reassures Iris that he will do the final preparations after Jan dies, such as calling the authorities, relieving Iris of the burden. Thus, we think that both have accepted Jan’s decision.
However, at work, Iris informs her colleagues about her father’s decision then quits. She tells her friend who hugs her. Though she attempts to begin the mourning process even as Jan still lives, she faces an unusual disconnect. Still, Iris fights her father’s decision. Surreptitiously, she looks for a way out for both of them. After she quits her job, she plans one attack: moving in with him to share the remaining months and possibly persuade him against dying. Jan remains emotionless and unmoved. Then one day as they drive around, Iris surprises her father and us with an extraordinary action.
This segment of the film when they spend time together remains the most poignant. Floor van der Meulen’s shepherding of Leysen and Akkermans succeeds. Their heartfelt exchanges coupled with the beautiful setting resonate. Thanks in part to the soundtrack including The Sonics, Jim Croce and Rodriguez, we watch compelled, wondering if Iris will succeed in convincing her father to live.
The writing, humor and graceful cinematography place us in the shoes of Iris and Ivan as we consider what we might do under such circumstances. Van der Meulen and Bastiaan Kroeger have given us pause as we consider whether we might choose death as Jan has chosen when the time speaks to us as appropriate.
Pink Moon earned a special jury mention for best new narrative director. You can still see it at Tribeca at Home. Or look for it streaming on various platforms.