Film Review: Living
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Film4 Productions and Ingenious Media
In Theaters: 01.27
It’s not a new idea for Western filmmakers to adapt the works of famed Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. The Seven Samurai begat The Magnificent Seven, and far less prominently, John G. Avildsen remade Yojimbo as Inferno. Those adaptations were all tough-guy adventure films about how a man faces down his enemy. Living, an adaptation of Kurosawa’s Ikiru, can be described the same way—except that in this case, the enemy is mortality and the adventure is simply to be alive.
Living stars Academy Award nominee Bill Nighy as Rodney Williams, a civil servant in the public works office in London, 1953. Mr. Williams leads a routine and wholly unremarkable life, going to work each day and spending quiet, lonely evenings at home. When he receives a terminal medical diagnosis, it jolts him into action, driving him to make the most of the time he has left, find some happiness and leave some tangible, lasting impact.
The celebrated novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (A Pale View of the Hills, The Remains of the Day) has adapted Living from Ikiru, which in turn was inspired by Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which was of course based on a comic book created by Stan Lee … whoops, scratch that last one (force of habit). Living comes from such a distinguished pedigree that if it were a dog, you could make a fortune selling its puppies.
All of these esteemed artists’ works blend to tell a story that is elegant in its simplicity and beautiful in its profundity. Williams is neither a tragic nor heroic figure: He’s simply a decent man who is compelled to carpe the living crap out of his final diems. Living asserts that a bit of self-care, combined with caring for others, is all that it really takes to be a hero. It’s difficult to leave the movie without feeling motivated to make every moment count, even if it’s simply taking a moment to have a pleasant conversation with someone you’ve never thought about getting to know.
Nighy is one of the finest actors of our time, and one of his greatest gifts has always been his ability to convey thoughts and feelings with whatever dialogue he’s given. Ishiguro has given him some outstanding dialogue, and the combination stands out as among the very best work in their respective careers. Aimée Lou Wood (Sex Education, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain) is endearing as Miss Harris, a young woman from the office with whom Williams forms a rather touching friendship. Alex Sharp (The Trial of the Chicago 7, How to Talk to Girls at Parties) makes quite an impression as Mr. Wakeling, a young man at Public Works who finds himself inspired by Williams. Director Oliver Hermanus (Moffie) takes a less-is-more approach, putting aside quick cuts and unnecessary camera movements in favor of creating the look and feel of the period, and it works beautifully.
Living is an uplifting and heartfelt film that is never cloying, though it provokes plenty of genuine warmth. While it has sad moments, it never dwells on them too long because it would be contrary to the point. Time is of the essence, and it’s up to us all to do the best we can with whatever amount of it that we are given. –Patrick Gibbs
Read more reviews of film adaptations:
Film Review: All Quiet on the Western Front
Film Review: Pinocchio
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