Critics prefer to pigeonhole films utilizing acquainted classes — fiction, nonfiction, completely happy, unhappy — however one of many charms of “Dick Johnson Is Lifeless” is how slippery it’s. Pitched artfully between the celebratory and the elegiac, it’s an inarguably critical documentary with mild, surrealistic prospers that, at instances, veer into exuberant goofiness. Even at its silliest, the film retains an undertow of melancholia as a result of (because the title broadcasts) it’s a dying discover. Additionally it is a love letter from a daughter to a father who, for the viewer, turns into absolutely human at the same time as he fades away.
The difficulty began, the director Kirsten Johnson explains, with missed appointments and errors. Her father, Dick, a psychiatrist and widower who lived alone in Washington, began to slide up. After which he drove by way of a development web site and saved on going, making it dwelling on 4 flat tires. His anxious associates and colleagues alerted Johnson and her brother. “Each name,” she says in voice-over, “felt like an alarm bell.”
When the documentary opens, father and daughter have already come to an understanding. He’ll transfer into her New York condominium, and the 2 of them, fairly extra unusually, will make a film about his dying, partly by enacting it. What made Dick signal on? He looks as if a supremely loving, indulgent father, however when he agreed to make this film did he absolutely grasp the state of affairs? The chance that he didn’t is each painful and ethically murky, which strengthens the film’s complexity.
Kirsten doesn’t provide a lot of a solution aside from “he stated sure,” although the film’s very existence, you come to know, explains lots. Not lengthy after, an air-conditioner is falling out of a excessive window and touchdown on Dick, splat. Just like the serially unfortunate Wile E. Coyote, although, he’s quickly again on his ft and smiling into the following scene, the following fantasy. The Oedipal overtones are robust (and Dad is a shrink), however Johnson doesn’t put both of them on the sofa (possibly as a result of Dad is a shrink).