living Movie Review
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How do you start to live when you never really lived in the first place? If you found out that you had limited time left on Earth, what would be your last act? These are just a few questions that South African director, Oliver Hermanus, answers in the moving new movie, Living (2022).
Set in 1950’s London, Living tells the story of Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy), an older gentleman who has spent a lifetime leading a small division at a local government agency who receives news of a terminal illness and only then realizes that he’s wasted his life away at a job that ensures nothing ever gets done.
Opening with new employee Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp) excited for his first day at work under Williams at County Hall, he quickly learns that he took on a job where “you keep the skyscrapers high” so as to look busy; a job where it is frowned upon to want to make a difference. To teach him this lesson on day one, he’s even tasked with assisting three locals who are petitioning for a children’s playground only to see that as he escorts them from one department to another, each one pushes the required approval onto the other so as to never have to complete the work.
It’s a drab, quiet office where few talk to one another save for Miss Harris (Sex Education’s Aimee Lou Wood) who injects a little light in an otherwise dark workplace. One envisions that Williams was once like Wakeling – ready to take on the world – but got lost along the way as he became a cog in the machine.
Mr. Williams is a dependable man. For decades he has shown up to work, each and every day, with the same clothes, the same hat, and the same stoic look on his face. He’s not one to chat much let alone even think of traveling with his colleagues in the same cabin on the daily commute to work.
At his home that he shares with his son, Michael (Barney Fishwick), and Michael’s wife, he lives an equally sad and depressing life. So much so that Michael and his wife dream of getting away from the old man and living on their own if only Mr. Williams weren’t holding up the funds received from his late wife’s passing to do so. He is a lonely man who struggles to engage with his family and appears to have no one to call a friend. So much so that when he receives news of a terminal disease that leaves him with less than nine months to live, he tells a stranger first. It is this death sentence that wakes Williams up to the life lost working a meaningless job.
What follows is a heartwarming story of how the chance meeting with the stranger, Mr. Sutherland (Tom Burke), and a later run-in with Miss Harris who Williams has always viewed as someone with an “appetite for life” allow him to live a little. Living is not a movie about a guy who suddenly lives life to the fullest – doing wild things, atoning for one’s sins, or taking extravagant risks. Instead, it highlights how we can make a difference in what we do no matter how much time we have left.
Living is a slow-burn story that stays with you long after it ends. A film that makes you question whether you’re really living or if you’re just going about the same mundane life day after day after day. It’s a film that requires a Kleenex – not for William’s death as that is inevitable, but ironically enough, for his life. So beautifully filmed, it harkens back to films made in the 1950’s down to the opening and closing credits – perhaps an homage to the 1952 film that Living is based on, Ikiru.
As for Nighy, he is nothing short of superb and rightfully is being rewarded for his performance with many award nominations including one for Best Actor at this year’s Oscars with this career role.
Go see this film, you won’t be disappointed.