There comes a point in life when reflecting back on one’s achievements and legacy helps us appreciate who we’ve become. At times, this comes with the question of whether or not one has truly lived or spent their life worrying about things that rarely matter—fretting on the uncertainties of the future. Whatever the case, there’s nothing like one of life’s curveballs to remind us to live in the present and do so to the fullest extent possible. That’s the premise of Oliver Hermanus’ 2022 British drama Living.
Written by Kazuo Ishiguro and adapted from the 1952 Japanese film, Ikiru, (which is actually inspired by the 1886 Russian novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich), Living finds Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) on the hunt to turn his dull life into a final wondrous spectacle. For so long, his oppressive office routine reduced him to ordinary living until one diagnosis made him rethink everything. A worthy adaptation of the original, Hermanus’ feature digs deep to uncover the simplicities of life and how that can bring about vivid experiences.
Living is a worthy adaptation
Early on, the film reviews a great deal about mundane office life through multiple side characters along with Nighy’s Mr. Williams. It feels as if the first 15 minutes were wasted on office banter rather than the film’s subject. Seemingly, Hermanus felt it more appropriate to highlight the mundanity of his job instead of the impact Mr. Williams had in his office. An odd choice indeed, but it unfortunately slows down the momentum and ability to generate initial interest early on.
Then comes the diagnosis. Once that occurs, Living soars beyond simple storytelling to reveal an undeniably heartfelt experience with redefining one’s life—even if it’s at the very end. And while the script hesitates to explain why there is an apparent friction between Mr. Williams and his son, there are moments when the avoidance of their interactions says, ultimately, the most about relationships and the people we care about when there’s a burden to be shared.
From the beginning to the very end of Living, there’s a great deal of heart buried underneath the unlikely interactions between people like Mr. Williams and Aimee Lou Wood’s Margaret Harris. But this is when the film exceeds all expectations. Specifically, the lighting helps to accentuate the moods that the characters are feeling. Furthermore, the editing with respect to the flashbacks come in at the perfect times to highlight the dark and joyous moments in his life. In either scenario, the technical aspects of the film become the backbone. Additionally, it helps usher in the sentimentalities that director Oliver Hermanus demands of his viewers.
The best part about Living, surprisingly, doesn’t come during the moments when viewers finally see him enjoying even simple things in his short time he has left. Instead, Hermanus chooses to usher in his best work when Mr. Williams’ impact is reflected and revealed through others. Ultimately, people want to know that their legacy and influence on others is positive and lasts lifetimes. And that’s exactly how it plays out in this feature. It says a great deal about being there for people when they need support the most—even when you’re unaware that a person may need that help.
Moments like these truly capture the beauty of Ishiguro’s script, highlighting humanity in a way that will leave a lasting impression among viewers. Through phenomenal performances from the entire cast, led by a ferociously exquisite showcase from Bill Nighy, Living takes its time reminding us about the importance of living, truly living, when you do so with kindness and fervor. It may be a lesson as old as humanity, but Hermanus’ adaptation tells it in a way that celebrates all that compassion can offer. And that’s a reminder that is worth telling time and again.