ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Documentary Dying at Grace presents a myriad of emotions
By Georgia Tanner
“This film is about the experience of dying.”
Even the blunt words that appear at the beginning of the film cannot fully
prepare you for what you are about to see. Allan King’s Dying at Grace
document the final days of five people at the Salvation Army Toronto Grace
Health Centre. It is both sensitive and explicit in the way it presents their
struggle, and can be difficult to watch.
Dying at Grace is not afraid to show all aspects of death. At a time when
movies typically show the terminally ill facing death with admirable courage,
the common and understandable fear reflected in one patient’s words, “I
just don’t want to go to sleep [for fear of death]” is all the
The film shows us that having courage at the end of one’s life may not
necessarily mean being ready for or unafraid of death. It depicts both the
fear and terrible isolation of going through our final days.
Feelings of isolation and misunderstanding are not uncommon. Eda, one of the
more optimistic patients in the film, refuses to speak to some of her friends,
preferring to deal with the issue of death on her own.
Carmela, an elderly Italian-Canadian, specifically requests her family not
be with her at the moment of death. Expressing the feeling of isolation of
the terminally ill, Lloyd, a minister for the Metropolitan Community Church,
asks his nurse, “Does he (the cameraman) understand?”
But King’s documentary doesn’t try to teach understanding; it
doesn’t try to explain death, make it pretty or scary or even ask the
viewer to come to any particular conclusion. All we are shown are five different
experiences, five different lives and a myriad of emotions.
Each person who watches Dying at Grace reacts differently. No two people will
react to death the same way, nor necessarily the way we expect.
In the film, Lloyd was both sad and afraid to die, even though he knew heaven
was waiting for him; while Eda was more accepting, though she didn’t
know what awaited her afterwards. And while some family members sobbed at their
loved one’s bedside, others optimistically spoke of a possible brighter
future or of happy memories.
In its stark portrayal of others dealing with the prospect of imminent death,
the film forces the viewer to confront the essentials of their own lives.
The documentary is as much about oneself as it is about the people in it.
It makes one appreciate life and the richness of the lives of the people dying
in the film.
Dying at Grace was named one of Canada’s Top 10 at the 2003 Toronto
International Film Festival. The documentary premieres on TVO on Wednesday,
Feb. 11 at 9 p.m. and features a phone-in discussion afterwards.