Bill Nighy in “Living”

Bill Nighy is magnetic as the grim protagonist in “Living”

“Living” is an exceptional film on several levels. The screenwriter, Kazuo Ishiguro, a Nobel Laureate, provides us a story created with a transfer to London from the Japanese setting of Ikuru, directed by Aikira Kurasawa, the highly regarded director of The Seven Sumarai (and several other masterpieces.)

The underlying tale is a fairly familiar one. In 1950s London, a civil servant receives a grim diagnosis which alters his life. The more modern telling is well worth the time spent watching, especially regarding the development of the friendship between Mr. Williams and Margaret Harris, (played by the extraordinary actors, Bill Nighy and Amy Lou Wood). 

The director, Oliver Hermanus does an excellent job in gaining outstanding work from his cast, despite the difficulties involved in gaining audience involvement in an, at times, complex story.

At one point, Ms. Harris explains to Mr. Williams why she has given him the nickname of "Mr. Zombie." It is well received by Mr. Williams despite the fact that the description includes references to his being weathered if not withered.

Ironically, another noteworthy cultural interweave is provided by the fact that the reading of Leo Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilych," inspired Kurasawa to create Ikuru.

“Living” also points a Kafkaesque finger at some of the dysfunctional aspects of bureaucracy and its minions. This provides compelling impetus for the renewed Mr. Williams to be perceived by his colleagues as a knight; his sword is his willingness to wait, in person, for key bureaucrats (upstairs, so to speak) to make a positive decision.

At stake is official support for the efforts of three middle-age women who've been seeking signatures that would permit them to transform a bombed- out urban lot into a children's playground. Thus we witness a close application of Aristotle's Ethics, wherein the way to achieve the "greatest good" is to live in accordance with the highest principles within you.

there's a resonant connection between Herman Hesse's neo-classic novel, Steppenwolf. As many will remember, while on a nocturnal walk, the narrator is given a leaflet which invites him to a "Magic Theater - Admission Your Mind."

In Mr. Williams' case, to transcend thoughts of his illness, he is brought by a guide (effectively played by Tom Burke) to some lively bistros in which formidable-looking women dance onstage to exotic music and patrons indulge in an array of drinks.

Amidst these activities, Mr. Williams nods out. For those who have experienced the above-noted form of sensory overload, the affectionately nicknamed "Mr. Zombie" has morphed into an empathy-inducing soul. 

This is one of the rewards for the viewer who has allowed him or herself to enter into this moving film. It provides insight into cross-cultural experiences that hold a significance for many of us.


 

“Living” Rated PG-13

Coming soon to Cinemapolis

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