Edinburgh festival tackles assisted suicide

BAFTA Director Hattie Dalton and cast on the location of Third Star

The Arts can sometimes let us see things differently, more clearly than any amount of words. This year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) has no less than three films dealing with the dilemmas of rational suicide and assisted suicide.

Third Star, which is the festival’s closing night gala film this Saturday (26th June), is a hard-hitting work in which the protagonist’s friends have to make lightning decisions about the degree of involvement they can bear.  Four young men, friends since childhood, who take an ill-advised camping trip to the farthest reaches of the West Wales coast. James has been diagnosed with a terminal illness so he and his friends know that the trip will be their last adventure together. But James, whose suffering is becoming unbearable, secretly wants to end his life in his favourite place in the world. He risks telling them of his plans. He would rather not die alone, but knows that is not his decision to take. The men, all in their thirties and of the generation that thinks more about whether their iPhone can synchronise properly than anything to do with death, have to understand themselves at lightning speed. Shifting circumstances challenge the audience to ask themselves if a slightly different set of factors would affect their decision differently. Another unusual aspect is that James, being the age he is, wants to ‘feel the fight one last time’ rather than slip away with morphine. He wants to savour his body’s last struggle for life as he ends it.

Even more difficult and controversial is a film that makes similar challenges but the two young persons concerned suffer from mental illness alone. Pelican Blood is an edgy, raw film about two young people with severe main depression that disposes them towards suicide while involved in an obsessive love affair with each other. Options include sharp instruments, pills or helium. The young man has weaned himself off self-harming by promising himself to end it all ‘for real.’ He can neither bear the ‘loony bin’ nor the drugs that make him ‘like a zombie.’ His age and the nature of his illness will divide even many right-to-die supporters. Pelican Blood has a special screening this Sunday (27th June) as part of the Best of the Fest line-up. There is no general release scheduled as yet.

Whereas many films dealing with the subject of rational suicide and assisted suicide lack the storyline to interest general viewers, both these films are guaranteed to shock and disturb a mainstream audience. They also remind us that rational suicide and assisted suicide can also be questions for younger people. People who would probably not spend their time in deep thought about teh subject the way an older generation often do.

A third film, but one that speaks more to a mature audiences, is a documentary called And Everything Is Going Fine by the Oscar-winning director, Steven Soderbergh. It looks at an American legend (but someone who is relatively unknown in this country) called Spalding Gray. He spent his life not only obsessing about his own death and suicide – in a healthy way – but reflecting on his life and thoughts as part of a branch of experimental theatre which he pioneered. When a road accident leaves him with both physical damage and brain damage, his death has been so anticipated as part of his life that it feels as if he has prophesied it. The film is a meditation on death – but as part of life. So much so, that it becomes redundant to spell out his final demise.

Tickets for remaining performances of festival screenings can be purchased from the Filmhouse box-office or online at EIFF.

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