Dick Johnson Is Dead
"He's a psychiatrist. I'm a cameraperson. I suggested I make a movie about him dying. He said yes."
Dick Johnson Is Dead is a bravely baroque meta-memoir, magic and realism, a nonfiction film so light and buoyant within the fluidity of the form that it floats. It's also a living memorial, both joyful and teary, to all of our parents, as well as to our caregivers past, present, and future. In this time of vulnerability, peril, and loss, Dick Johnson Is Dead is also a work of art that is at once reparative and devastating. I watched it last night with Danielle, who reached for the tissue box one-minute in. We laughed throughout the film, and were a little bit destroyed as the credits rolled.
Kirsten Johnson has made a masterwork here, one deserving of thought and study. I miss having the time and attention to apply appropriate reflection in writing about film, or anything. And I'm not even going to attempt it the morning after, which would be a disservice. I also don't feel much like crying this morning. When I was a festival programmer, watching docs all day, frequent weeping was all part of a good day's work. I don't miss that.
I assume Netflix will be making an awards push for Dick Johnson Is Dead. I think they should position it for Best Picture, not just Best Documentary. While experimental to a degree, it is not alienating in its formal conceits and would expose wider audiences to more ambitious approaches to documentary filmmaking. Also, this film is so particularly resonant in these times, and beautiful, and cathartic, it could and should burst the documentary bubble. And it does.