- Movie Rating -

Dick Johnson is Dead (2020)

| December 29, 2020

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have not been able to go to movie theaters nor film festivals.  So now, with the help of award-season screeners, this month I am catching up.

Some people seem more prepared for the inevitabilities of life than others.  Take, for example, Dick Johnson, a Seattle-based former psychiatrist and Seventh Day Adventist who is hard-wired to the fact that he will soon be the victim of dementia and uses the intervening time to be the subject of his daughter Kristina’s odd and somewhat enchanting documentary Dick Johnson is Dead

Dick is a man who loves his life, loves himself and loves his daughter and apparently has a wonderful sense of humor about the strange fate that life is sometimes heir to.  That’s probably why he would agree to be staged in various forms of accidents (via some homemade special effects) whether it is being crushed by a rogue air conditioner, falling down the stairs or killed by a murderous chocolate cake.  He seems like a whimsical old bird, and a man who wants to take a bite out of the ass of life as long as he still can.

For Kirsten though, the staging is a way of exerting some measure of control over something to which she knows that she has no control.  The scenarios of her father’s untimely demise, are a way of using her camera to pull back a wish that her father could go quickly rather than sliding into the withering caverns of his condition.  It may also be a way of documenting the last years of his life before the dementia kicks in.  We get to know Dick for the good and true person that he is, a happy guy whose hard-held religious beliefs are something that he keeps close to his chest – particularly the belief that death is just a slumbering limbo that lasts until Judgement Day that, as I understood it, seems to be the equivalent of a long-lasting birthday party wherein he re-acquaints with lost relatives and awaits the arrival of his late wife.

I have always said that the most effective documentaries leave us with a sense of what the movie is about far beyond what is presented.  In other words, they leave you with something to think about.  What I came away with in this presentation (particularly because I just recently saw the end of my own grandmother’s seven-year battle with dementia) is the precious moments of life that are key before we lose someone to a state of sleeping death.  The reality of Dick’s condition is that he will slowly lose pieces of himself and parts of his personality identity will wither away.  She wants to remember him through the lens of her camera for the man that he is rather than the ‘patient’ that he will become.  And in the form of this extraordinarily quirky documentary, she celebrates this man, this unique and individual man now, as he is.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2020) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized