Starring: Dick Johnson, Kirsten Johnson
Director: Kirsten Johnson
Running Time: 90 mins
Dick Johnson Is Dead is an American documentary about a woman who helps prepare her ageing father for the end of his life through a candid but unorthodox look at death.
It’s often easy to tell people to ‘look death in the face’, but the truth is that nobody likes thinking about the end. Dick Johnson Is Dead, however, is one of the few examples of how you can talk about death in a candid yet bright way, telling a story filled with immense humour and heart throughout.
There’s so much to love about this movie, and for all of its saddest moments, it always has a wonderful moment of soaring emotion to make you smile. Never looking away from the unfortunate realities of life and death, you’ll almost certainly be moved to tears watching Dick Johnson Is Dead, but that in no way means that this is a sad film.
An unorthodox and ingenious documentary from director Kirsten Johnson, the film follows her own discussions about life and death with her father, Dick, and their fun-loving attempts to prepare for his death by staging a series of elaborate and ridiculous fake demises for him.
The film features a handful of very well-produced vignettes of these fake deaths, with both daughter and father pulling out all the stops to make them as funny and as realistic as possible. It may seem silly at first, and it is there to make you laugh, but it’s also there to make a serious point.
As well as talking about staring death in the face and celebrating somebody’s life, the way the film tackles the issue brings up the theme of coping with the inevitable in whichever way you see most fit.
In that, this movie is far more of a personal reflection on death than any sort of instructive or deliberately inspiring tale of how to deal with death. Through many intimate conversations between Kirsten and her father, as well as their bizarre yet wonderfully entertaining fake death creations, we see the unique way in which they choose to prepare for death, in as unorthodox a manner as possible.
That honesty and audacity to be different is so refreshing, as well as the fact that this film doesn’t in any way say that this is the ‘right’ way to go about things. It’s so genuine at every moment, from its ability to frankly talk about the most difficult parts of ageing and death, to its no-holds-barred, zany sense of humour, and that makes Dick Johnson Is Dead such a powerful and memorable piece of cinema. So, that’s why I’m giving it an 8.0 overall.