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Living (Film Review)

3 min read


Mortality is something most of us are haunted by in some shape or form. In Living, a delicate yet beautifully perceived film from director and helmed by screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro, we see how an unimaginable conversation can change one's perspective on life.

Loosely based on 's 1952 film Ikiru (To Live), we see similarities throughout – from the depiction of the protagonist to sharing themes such as loss and loneliness.  Mr Williams, portrayed by , is a straight to the point and intimidating civil servant working in the town planning department in the fifties. His intimidation comes across as blunt to start, simply from the way his colleagues choose to tip-toe around him on the train journey to work, but we soon see it is cemented through his loneliness; he is a widower and his relationship with his son and daughter-in-law isn't on the best of terms stemming from awkward dinner conversations.

Retirement was near reach for Mr William's before he received a stomach cancer diagnosis, with his life expectancy now at just 365 days. It's at this pivotal moment that the film becomes less stern but more deeply impactful. Williams considers the fact he hasn't lived at all and now is the time to curate his own attempt at living. He tries the boozy lifestyle with Mr Sutherland, a writer he happened to have met in a café by the sea. Whilst that friendship didn't suffice, it was refreshing to see his friendship with Margaret (Aimee Lou Wood) a young free spirit and sometimes flirtatious former civil servant blossom organically. Despite the potential for controversy of an age gap, their friendship was honest and very in the moment, easing his loneliness whilst dealing with his health secret.

Nighy's performance provides no shock that it has earned him his first ever Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. In Living, his performance is unbelievably earnest and emotionally raw, perhaps arguably a role that we've not seen him at this level before. The actor's most known work and dubbed as his ‘breakout role' is Love Actually, where he played Billy Mac, a rock and roll singer attempting to get the Christmas number one single. That previous role is a total flip to Living where Mr William's forgets choosing to live life on the edge but to make his last days have purpose; after him and his colleagues put off one planning permission, he forces city authorities to build a modest children's playground to support the local mothers who were tirelessly petitioning.

Whilst simplistic and perhaps underwhelming when placed among other big films during awards season, Living can say one thing: it allows us to ask questions about our own lives and the way we chose to live. Why does it take something like a terminal diagnosis for our perspective to shift? Death is sad, scary, and unknown and because of that we prolong our recognition of it like a blank space in our mind. Living is a sad, yet gentle reminder of our own morality

Living is out now in cinemas