For Reel

How to Die in Oregon (2011)
June 13, 2011, 6:50 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Peter Richardson

In the opening moments of How to Die in Oregon, an elderly man drinks a solution that ends his life. He does so with great relief, thanking those who allowed him to follow through on his decision. A documentary like this one, which captures the intimate final moments of a person’s life, is at an enormous risk of becoming pure exploitation. Instead, the film, though heartbreaking, is an effective call-to-arms – with the central figure of Cody Curtis, the audience has a woman who can accessibly guide them through the mental state of someone who is faced with harsh decisions that the luckiest of us will never have to make. As someone who has supported the Death with Dignity act and yet has fortunately never been in a situation in which physician-assisted suicide was the desirable option of a loved one, the film reaffirmed what I thought I knew – a patient’s ability to choose when they want to end their life is completely and utterly humane. Though not an easy film to get through, How to Die in Oregon is among the most personal documentaries of the new millennium, one that forces the audience to approach mortality in a thoughtful way, superseding instinctual fear and allowing engagement not only emotionally, but intellectually as well.