Blackbird – When the Date of the End Is Set

REVIEW
by Violetta Efimova
02.11.2020
A remake of the Danish drama Silent Heart (2014) by Bille August, Blackbird (2019, directed by Roger Michell) is a mixture of a pure American comedy with a shrill note of an enormous family tragedy. The film was presented at the 15th AMFEST Fall festival.
A usual American family gets together for the first time in a while to celebrate Christmas. In November. Odd, but it's the only wish of Lily (Susan Sarandon) before her death. Incurably ill with ALS, she isn't going to aggravate her own position being tied around with tubes. In lieu of this, Lily wants to spend this last weekend of life with her husband Paul (Sam Neill) and daughters Jennifer (Kate Winslet) and Anna (Mia Wasikowska), also accompanied by Lily's best friend Elizabeth (Lindsay Duncan), Jennifer's husband Michael (Rainn Wilson), their son Jonathan (Anson Boon) and Anna's girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus). When the weekend comes to its end, Lily will take the medicine (provided by her husband who turns out to be a quite sophisticated doctor) which will make her fall asleep once and forever.
The film itself can be explicitly divided into two parts which peculiarly embody life and death. The first part, full of ironic jests and black humour (chiefly about the death itself and coming from Lily directly), shows the family's reunion and little wrangles during Christmas preparations. Though this part may seem so cozy in a family way, it simultaneously discloses all the relationships' breaches: Jennifer and Anna keep nagging at each other with no reason at all; Jonathan opens up about his desire to become an actor which is totally unaccepted by everybody except his dying grandmother; Jennifer's irritated by Elizabeth who is so close to the family that has been almost on every vacation together with Lily and Paul for many years.

The second part commences with "Christmas". But even Lily's attempts to keep this very last weekend normal and even a bit more exceptional — decorating the Christmas tree, preparing festive food, handing out specially selected gifts for each of the family members — don't meet with success. And this time it's Anna who blows up in the midst of the celebration accusing her mother of egoism, of not really knowing her own children and not even trying to get to know them better.

This is where the family bomb, which has been ticking for a long time, finally explodes. In a burst of anger and despair Anna informs Jennifer of her intention to thwart the settled plan and to call 911 when their mother is about to take the medicine. On Sunday morning, which is supposed to be the last one for Lily, another mystery unravels — about Paul having an affair with Elizabeth, which Jennifer has been suspecting him of for a long time. The apogee of all this turmoil is Lily confessing she's been aware of Paul and Elizabeth's relationships since the beginning — in addition, she even supports them. Here eventually comes the general stupefaction, and when Lily pronounces "It's time now", everybody has to acquiesce.

Blackbird happens to be a pure example of how the symbolism penetrates the very sense of what's happening on the screen. The title itself refers to many varied perceptions of the bird which, depending on the culture, can be a good omen or a harbinger of something eerie. In Christianity it's often equated to the devil while Feng Shui proclaims the blackbird a symbol of longevity or even immortality. This is the reason why the principal matter of Blackbird can be comprehended ambiguously.
The film demonstrates an example of euthanasia — an illegal and deliberate practice of ending your life to evade sufferings and pain. Besides the self-evident fact of the main heroine's voluntary wish to commit a suicide, there's one more gentle hint at this procedure when Lily gives her grandson a book of poems by Austrian novelist and poet René Rilke. It's not just a contingency — Rilke, who was also suffering from an incurable disease, leukemia, organized a very meticulous preparation for his own funeral and wrote an epitaph, even though he eventually didn't kill himself.


The perspective in Blackbird ostensibly has its own, separate role which is revealed in gathering all the characters in one frame — indeed, most of the shots don't exclude any single person. But even with such legends of cinema as Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet always on screen, it's Mia Wasikowska who astonishes the most with the grief of being a mental outcast for her own family. Another surprising standout here is Rainn Wilson who, utterly disabusing the audience of his long-standing comic character, this time turns to a real drama, though with some notes of his previous manner to play a ridiculously intrusive outsider.





The family house, another separate character, seemingly dies along with its mistress: the children are gone again for coming back to their normal life, the mourning husband turns off the lights and leaves somewhere in an unknown direction. The final shot is mournfully sombre — but there's anyway the hope for the family recovery.











 
Blackbird – When the Date of the End Is Set
REVIEW
by Violetta Efimova
02.11.2020
A remake of the Danish drama Silent Heart (2014) by Bille August, Blackbird (2019, directed by Roger Michell) is a mixture of a pure American comedy with a shrill note of an enormous family tragedy. The film was presented at the 15th AMFEST Fall festival.
A usual American family gets together for the first time in a while to celebrate Christmas. In November. Odd, but it's the only wish of Lily (Susan Sarandon) before her death. Incurably ill with ALS, she isn't going to aggravate her own position being tied around with tubes. In lieu of this, Lily wants to spend this last weekend of life with her husband Paul (Sam Neill) and daughters Jennifer (Kate Winslet) and Anna (Mia Wasikowska), also accompanied by Lily's best friend Elizabeth (Lindsay Duncan), Jennifer's husband Michael (Rainn Wilson), their son Jonathan (Anson Boon) and Anna's girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus). When the weekend comes to its end, Lily will take the medicine (provided by her husband who turns out to be a quite sophisticated doctor) which will make her fall asleep once and forever.
The film itself can be explicitly divided into two parts which peculiarly embody life and death. The first part, full of ironic jests and black humour (chiefly about the death itself and coming from Lily directly), shows the family's reunion and little wrangles during Christmas preparations. Though this part may seem so cozy in a family way, it simultaneously discloses all the relationships' breaches: Jennifer and Anna keep nagging at each other with no reason at all; Jonathan opens up about his desire to become an actor which is totally unaccepted by everybody except his dying grandmother; Jennifer's irritated by Elizabeth who is so close to the family that has been almost on every vacation together with Lily and Paul for many years.

The second part commences with "Christmas". But even Lily's attempts to keep this very last weekend normal and even a bit more exceptional — decorating the Christmas tree, preparing festive food, handing out specially selected gifts for each of the family members — don't meet with success. And this time it's Anna who blows up in the midst of the celebration accusing her mother of egoism, of not really knowing her own children and not even trying to get to know them better.

This is where the family bomb, which has been ticking for a long time, finally explodes. In a burst of anger and despair Anna informs Jennifer of her intention to thwart the settled plan and to call 911 when their mother is about to take the medicine. On Sunday morning, which is supposed to be the last one for Lily, another mystery unravels — about Paul having an affair with Elizabeth, which Jennifer has been suspecting him of for a long time. The apogee of all this turmoil is Lily confessing she's been aware of Paul and Elizabeth's relationships since the beginning — in addition, she even supports them. Here eventually comes the general stupefaction, and when Lily pronounces "It's time now", everybody has to acquiesce.

Blackbird happens to be a pure example of how the symbolism penetrates the very sense of what's happening on the screen. The title itself refers to many varied perceptions of the bird which, depending on the culture, can be a good omen or a harbinger of something eerie. In Christianity it's often equated to the devil while Feng Shui proclaims the blackbird a symbol of longevity or even immortality. This is the reason why the principal matter of Blackbird can be comprehended ambiguously.
The film demonstrates an example of euthanasia — an illegal and deliberate practice of ending your life to evade sufferings and pain. Besides the self-evident fact of the main heroine's voluntary wish to commit a suicide, there's one more gentle hint at this procedure when Lily gives her grandson a book of poems by Austrian novelist and poet René Rilke. It's not just a contingency — Rilke, who was also suffering from an incurable disease, leukemia, organized a very meticulous preparation for his own funeral and wrote an epitaph, even though he eventually didn't kill himself.

The perspective in Blackbird ostensibly has its own, separate role which is revealed in gathering all the characters in one frame — indeed, most of the shots don't exclude any single person. But even with such legends of cinema as Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet always on screen, it's Mia Wasikowska who astonishes the most with the grief of being a mental outcast for her own family. Another surprising standout here is Rainn Wilson who, utterly disabusing the audience of his long-standing comic character, this time turns to a real drama, though with some notes of his previous manner to play a ridiculously intrusive outsider.
The family house, another separate character, seemingly dies along with its mistress: the children are gone again for coming back to their normal life, the mourning husband turns off the lights and leaves somewhere in an unknown direction. The final shot is mournfully sombre — but there's anyway the hope for the family recovery.
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