Clicking and Streaming: "How To Die In Oregon" and "A Field In England"
By By Ashley Stephenson and Jeff Miller
Nov 16, 2014 | 12:05 PM
How To Die In Oregon
Directed by Peter Richardson
Available for streaming on Netflix
Last month, Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, whose touching story captivated the Internet, chose to end her life. Shortly after Maynard was married, she started getting debilitating headaches and after getting them checked by a doctor, received a terminal diagnosis. So, she made the decision to move with her husband and parents from San Francisco to Oregon to seek the option of Death With Dignity, a law that allows a physician to prescribe a terminally ill patient a legal dose of medicine that will take his or her life if they wish to do so, that at that time was only legal in Oregon and Washington. Reflecting on Maynard's life and right to death is an excellent reason to return to or discover 2011's "How to Die in Oregon."
This documentary tells a deeply touching story (you'll cry a lot and it's a special kind of crying, separate from the emotional manipulation common even in documentaries these days) about coming to terms with death, and the debate of whether or not a person should be allowed the choice to die with dignity or deal with the pain and suffering that will inevitably seize them. The film highlights several people's relationship with death, though it mainly cuts between Nancy Niedzielski, who fought for the Death with Dignity Act to be passed in Washington as a final gift to her late husband, and Cody Curtis, who had a tumor the size of a grapefruit in her liver and eventually chose to end her life.
Cody's tumor was removed, but shortly after, doctors discovered her cancer had returned and it was so aggressive that nothing could be done about it. Cody would simply have to wait and suffer a long, painful death. Cody's spirit carries the film to the very end and her death is tastefully dealt with by way of sensitive cinematography and wise editing. A cut to wide shot appears at a crucial moment that makes Cody's demise even more heart-wrenching and affecting and underlines how important this choice was for the dying 54 year-old. And that's what the whole argument proposed in "How To Die In Oregon" comes down to: That the right to die should be a choice. As Brittany Maynard wrote for CNN, "I do not want to die. But I'm dying. And I want to die on my own terms," and so she bravely did. (Ashley Stephenson)
A Field In England
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Available for streaming at Amazon
Full of paradoxes, Ben Wheatley's historical thriller "A Field in England" is a war movie without battles, a psychedelic movie shot in black and white, and a road movie confined to only one setting (although the eponymous field is rather large). Set during the English Civil War, the film follows several soldiers who set out in search of an alehouse. Along the way they encounter an alchemist, who quickly ensnares them and sets them about searching for a buried treasure. Wheatley finds a myriad of ways to disorient – there is a psychedelic sequence that utilizes stroboscopic effects and it frequently relies on out-of-sync audio and rapid cuts combined with looped footage. These techniques enhance Amy Jump's surreal screenplay, which uses the hallucinogenic plot points to constantly call into question the reliability of the narrative. Her script is also damn funny: there are plenty of one-liners spouted by the characters ("We shall sample a better quality of suffering in this man's company" is a sly, clever one) and one scene that brutally satirizes class divisions (a man's dying wish is that his wife be informed that her sister was the better fuck). It would be easy to dismiss "A Field in England" as an experimental one-off if it wasn't a meticulously crafted and so fun.
And I have my own theory about this out-there feature: It seems like a chance for Wheatley and screenwriter Jump to go wild before their next project, an adaptation of "High Rise," J.G. Ballard's classic 1975 novel of dystopian class warfare. "High Rise" will surely be made under the weight of studio scrutiny and expectations that accompany any popular adaptation with a proper budget, so here the filmmakers seem to have embarked on making a film beholden to their own creative whims. (Jeff Miller)