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We have selected ten of our favorite films, both narrative films and documentaries, that explore issues of life review, finding purpose in one's life, and granting permission to die.

A Rumor of Angels 

Directed by Peter O’Fallon. 2000. After his mother dies in a car accident, a young man befriends an older widow who helps him work through his feelings around his mother's death by telling him that angels often talk to the living. Starring Vanessa Redgrave and Ray Liotta.

Big Fish

Directed by Tim Burton. 2003. A reporter attempts to learn more about his dying father by finding the truth behind a lifetime of his tall tales and legends of epic proportions in this fanciful adventure based on the 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace. Starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney and Jessica Lange.

Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject

Directed by Terry Kaldhusdal and Michael Bernhagen. 2011. This documentary examines many of the issues that we will all face at the end-of-life. It opens the floodgates of thought and conversation on this most difficult and often taboo subject. It helps to illustrate many areas of improvement in our health care system. 

Departures 

Directed by Yōjirō Takita. Shockiku. 2008. A young cellist has an epiphany in which he realizes he's been heading down the wrong career path. Retreating to his hometown, he trains for a new professional role as a "nakanshi," one who prepares the dead for burial. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009 and the Japan Academy Prize for Picture of the Year at the 32nd Japan Academy Prize.  Language: Japanese. 

The Descendants 

Directed by Alexander Payne. 2011. This comedy-drama follows the journey of Matt King as he struggles to reconnect with his daughters after he is told that his wife will never awaken from her coma. Under the terms of her living will, she must be disconnected from life support. Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Starring George Clooney.

Dying Wish:  A Doctor’s Decision to Stop Eating and Drinking

Directed by Boulder film maker Karen van Vuuren. 2008. This is a beautifully made documentary of a courageous physician facing his final days with the help of a loving family and a supportive hospice team.   

The Fountain

Directed by Darren Aronofsky. 2006. This unique film blends elements of romance, fantasy, history, religion and science fiction. There are three story lines with three sets of characters played by the same actors: a modern-day scientist and his cancer-stricken wife; a conquistador and his queen; and a space traveler in the future who envisions his lost love. The stories reflect the themes of love and mortality. Starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz.

Griefwalker

Directed by Tim Wilson. 2008..This documentary introduces Stephen Jenkinson, the leader of a palliative care counseling team at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital.  Through his job, he has been at the deathbed of well over 1,000 people.  What he sees over and over, he says, is “a wretched anxiety and an existential terror” even when there is no pain. He has made it his life’s mission to change the way we die – to turn the act of dying from denial and resistance into an essential part of life. Jenkinson is the founder of Orphan Wisdom.

My Sister’s Keeper

Directed by Nick Cassevetes. 2009. Anna Fitzgerald seeks medical emancipation from her parents, who have relied upon their youngest child to help their leukemia-stricken daughter Kate remain alive. Based on Jodi Picoult's novel of the same name. Starring Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin and Alec Baldwin.

Wit

Directed by Mike Nichols. 2001. Based on the 1998 Pulitzer Prize winning play by Margaret Edson. Vivian Bearing is a professor of English literature whose life takes a turn when she is diagnosed with metastatic Stage IV ovarian cancer. She suffers through the various treatments and side-effects. During the course of the film, she continually breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to the camera to express her feelings. Starring Emma Thompson.