By Dan Clendenin

Dick Johnson is Dead (2020)

“Now it’s upon us, the beginning of his disappearance.” When director Kirsten Johnson’s father Dick (a retired clinical psychiatrist) was diagnosed with dementia, she decided to make a documentary movie about the experience, although not in a simple or direct way. Much of the movie is straightforward, as together they process what’s happening. They move out of the family home, savor family memories, and close his office, after which he moves from Seattle to New York to live with Johnson. There are also poignant flashbacks about her mother, who died earlier of severe Alzheimers. But in other parts of the film Johnson employs black humor to explore his devastating sickness. She imagines and then stages the different ways that her father might eventually die, some of them “accidents” like falling down stairs, or bleeding out after getting struck on the head. Her father plays along with these enactments with dignity and good humor. At one point her father says, “just euthanize me.” Kirsten also has her father enact his own funeral, complete with him lying motionless in a casket, and imagines his entrance into heaven several times. This is a bittersweet movie: hopeful, even joyful, but also brutally realistic. It confronts us in a direct but gentle way with the meaning of our mortality. The film premiered at Sundance, where it won the Special Jury Award, and was later released on Netflix. When I watched it a while back it had a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Dan Clendenin: dan@journeywithjesus.net

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