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End of life - ‘Exit Plan’

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Who decides when a life ends?

It’s a complicated question, packed with moral and ethical nuances. Should a terminally ill person be permitted to choose the manner in which their existence ceases? And should the state allow outside actors to participate in that process? How can anyone know that a person is truly, fully committed to the idea?

“Exit Plan,” a new Danish film from director Jonas Alexander Arnby currently available on demand, initially looks like it could be prepared to wrestle with the complexity of those questions. However, it never quite manages to find its footing, with Rasmus Birch’s script failing to maintain any kind of real consistency. It is chronologically jumbled and tonally confusing, never quite finding the sweet spot where everything clicks.

There are moments – largely driven by the legitimate talent of leading man Nicolaj Coster-Waldeau (of “Game of Thrones” fame – but they are far too few for the film to fully work. That said, the film’s aesthetic is compelling and again, Coster-Waldeau is great. Still, it’s clear that there are some big ideas bubbling away under the surface, but the languid pacing and scattershot timeline don’t allow those ideas to be fully realized.

We meet Max Isaksen (Coster-Waldeau) via a video missive that indicates that he is about to die. From there, we flash back. We learn that he is an insurance investigator in a loving relationship with his girlfriend Laerke (Tuva Novotny, “Annihilation”). We also learn that he is suffering from a brain tumor – an inoperable tumor that is on the verge of completely destroying him both physically and mentally.

With seemingly no other recourse, Max tries – and fails – to take his own life. More than once. It’s clear to him that he will be unable to do this on his own. Things appear hopeless, but it all changes after a meeting with a client named Alice Dinesen (Sonja Richter, “The German Lesson”). She has been trying for months to collect on the life insurance policy of her husband following his disappearance, but she finally has some proof – a video missive from him, wherein he explains that he has gone somewhere for assistance in committing suicide.

This place – called Hotel Aurora – bills itself as a “beautiful ending,” essentially functioning as a fancy suicide resort hidden away in the mountains. Max makes his way there and books his own ending. However, the people he meets there – fellow guests and staff members alike – lead him to ask questions about just what sort of place Hotel Aurora is. A few unexpected conversations and a few wrong turns (and at least one opium-laced beverage) lead him into a hallucinatory spiral. He’s no longer sure of anything – including if he’s truly here of his own volition.

There are a number of issues with “Exit Plan,” but perhaps the biggest is the absence of narrative energy. There’s a plodding feeling to the proceedings that’s tough to overcome. A leisurely pace can work, but there has to be some element of dynamism to make up for the absence of urgency. Unfortunately, that dynamism simply isn’t here.

It doesn’t help that the timeline is a bit too disjointed. I’m no slave to linear narrative, but too much chronological fracturing results in a story that is difficult to follow. While the blurriness of the lines between past and present is sometimes effective, we’re too often left with muddiness.

It’s not all bad, though. The visual style works; there are some really striking screen pictures here. There are stretches of compelling story as well – in truth, each of these parallel narratives would perhaps be better served if allowed to play out in full on their own. And there are some thoughtful seeds here – state-sanctioned euthanasia is a long-standing topic for debate all over the globe – though they’re never quite allowed to blossom fully.

The performances are pretty solid. It is very much Coster-Waldeau’s movie, and he mostly proves up to the task of carrying it. He’s got charisma to spare, but he manages to subvert it, hiding behind glasses and a mustache to turn himself into, well – an insurance investigator. The rest of the cast is fine, albeit largely unmemorable – Novotny is probably the standout of the bunch. Still, they hit their marks and provide a solid foundation for the story.

“Exit Plan” is the sort of film that makes one wonder what could have been. There are pieces of an excellent offering here, but they’re never fully assembled in a way that represents that potential excellence. This movie’s name was changed for the American audience – before “Exit Plan,” it was called “Suicide Tourist.” To be honest, the new title suits this film a little better … and I think I might have liked the film indicated by that initial moniker a little more.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Saturday, 20 June 2020 17:12


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