The unflinching look at death in Showtime’s new series Time of Death reminds me of the frank and life-affirming documentary How to Die in Oregon about the Oregon and Washington Death with Dignity Acts. Most of the time, movies and TV series which include any aspect of our common inevitability, death, turn only a glancing gaze at the taboo subject.
Through action or suspense shows, death is usually quick and brutal. Detective dramas analyze death after it’s happened; medical programs are overly optimistic about the realities of CPR. Comedies almost always avoid the topic all together (though How I Met Your Mother bucked the establishment in one of its highest rated episodes). For the most part, producers of visual media shy away from death. They’re likely concerned viewers won’t tune in to watch the complicated emotions around a family losing a loved one to a terminal illness or the difficult physical realities of dying.
This was certainly the case when How to Die in Oregon debuted at the Sundance Festival. In the first showing, already sparsely attended, the audience grew thinner as people walked out midway through the film. Then, something remarkable happened; the people who stayed through the show raved about it so much, by the end of the festival, viewers had to fight the crowds for a seat, and ultimately the film won one of the highest awards at Sundance.
How to Die in Oregon went on to sweep up awards at many film festivals, aired on HBO many times, and was nominated for an Emmy. In late May this year, it became available through Netflix streaming, and it’s popularity soared once again. The documentary is now reaching a whole generation of viewers who are casually coming across the film while surfing for something to fill the time. (Though, as one viewer on Twitter warned, you might want to be mindful in which setting you watch it: “Lesson learned: don’t watch “How to Die in Oregon” in public. Specifically the gym. Hey maybe my tears and sweat look the same?”)
A film which was once perceived to be as avoidable as the topic it addresses—death—now draws people in and hangs onto them through the final breath and the credits roll. Will Showtimes’ Time of Death have the same effect of bringing death out in the open; something to emote about on Twitter? I hope so.
Death, dying, and grieving are difficult to grapple with; it’s much easier to avoid thinking about any of these realities. But ignoring them doesn’t reduce the chance death will happen to each of us, and by not facing this directly, all too often we aren’t having the conversations to let our loved ones know what we’d want if we can express our end-of-life care wishes ourselves. Heck, most of us aren’t even thinking about what kind of end-of-life care we’d want.
I truly hope shows like How to Die in Oregon and Time of Death reach a wide audience, encourage more producers that shows about death aren’t a dead end, and as a culture we begin to face our mortality with honesty and more openness.
You can watch the first episode of Showtime’s Time of Death below.
View full post on Death with Dignity National Center
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