A lot or a little?
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dick Johnson is Dead is filmmaker Kirsten Johnson's attempt to cope with the inevitable loss of her beloved 86-year-old father, Dick, a sunny and supportive presence in her life. With his cooperation, she stages a variety of death scenes with stunt men standing in for Dick, who cheerfully participates. She shows the behind-the-scenes tricks that result in real-looking scenes, but the finished sequences do look real. In one, Dick spurts fake blood from a neck wound. In another, an air conditioner falls on him. In another, he has a heart attack. She holds a full funeral for him before he dies, so he can participate. The discussions of his weakening health and declining memory are frank and compassionate, but it's his optimistic and loving outlook and his daughter's determination to create a funny and lasting document of his last years that make this something unusual and universal. This is an odd and quirky introduction into discussions about death.
What's the story?
Kirsten Johnson, a New York documentary maker, adores her 86-year-old psychiatrist father Dick, the man who inspired her DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD. As his memory begins to fail and he makes medical mistakes with patients, she returns to Seattle and helps him shut down his practice. They pack up his house and he moves into her one-bedroom apartment in New York City. She proposes they collaborate on a film in which she'll stage a variety of his accidental deaths, in her effort to cope with the inevitable loss ahead. She gathers their close-knit church-going community to celebrate Dick in a realistic mock funeral, complete with Dick in an open casket. She enlists stunt men to double for Dad in "accidents" she films, a humorous way of dealing with a somber subject while creating a memory of her father that will live on.
Is it any good?
This wise and goofy film an inspired piece saturated with love and appreciation of a daughter preparing to lose someone she loves dearly. Many will relate to the pain of such an inevitable loss, which is why Dick Johnson is Dead works so well. Though we all know that everyone dies, we spend so much time and energy deliberately avoiding thoughts about this reality. Kirsten conquers death over and over as she "kills" her dad, then lifts him up from the aftermath unharmed. The mock funeral is the film's most moving sequence, an unexpected gut punch and counterweight to the whimsical "deaths" she's filmed. Dick's best friend breaks down as he pre-lives delivering the eulogy for his friend. This sends the loud, clear message that we need to tell the people we love how much we appreciate them while they're still here with us.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the finality of death. Why do you think Kirsten wanted to film her father as he aged?
Dick and Kirsten seem to have a great time collaborating on Dick Johnson is Dead. What projects can we all do with parents, siblings, and other family members that can bring us closer together?
How would you like to attend your own funeral? What do you think it would be like?
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