TIFF 2015: Last Cab to Darwin
For most of us, there are moments in our lives when we are faced with our own imminent mortality. If we are lucky, that day may come when we are in our sunset years and we’ve had the privilege of living a long life. For those less fortunate, that day may come when a doctor tells you they didn’t get all the cancer and you have just months to live. This is the premise behind the hit Australian film Last Cab to Darwin. When a man is faced with this moment, he learns to start living and he sees just how big of an impact he’s had on his friends’ lives when he thought he had no one at all.
Rex (Michael Caton) is a cab driver in Broken Hill, Australia who lives a simple life. A visit with his doctor reveals that he has terminal cancer with 3 months left at best. During this time, assisted suicide is briefly legal in Darwin territory. After contacting a doctor in Darwin (Jackie Weaver), Rex decides to drive his cab across the country to get assistance in dying. He leaves behind his friends, his dog, his house, and what he thinks is a meaningless life and sets out on his road trip. Along the way he meets several people who are also on their own journey of self discovery. When he arrives in Darwin, Rex is dismayed to find out that in order for the suicide to proceed, he needs approvals from several psychologists and specialists, most of which are reluctant to give their consent. Rex’s condition continues to deteriorate and is considering proceeding even without the approvals. Upon reaching the edge of death he is forced to make a decision about how he wants to die after realizing the importance of his friends and the woman he loved.
This film is quite an emotional ride. It deals with the complexity of dying with compassion and authenticity. Given that death is the one thing no one can escape, this is a film with the capacity to appeal audiences far and wide. By approaching the subject matter with humour and grace, this film becomes a special life-affirming piece that delights and brings the tears.
The relationship between Rex and his neighbour Polly (Ningali Lawford) is touching and one of the best elements of the film. The dialogue written for the two of them is wonderfully full of subtext and you understand that they have a history together from long before the events that take place in the film. They have a comfort together that only comes from long-term relationships. The decisions Rex makes with regards to his relationship with Polly are at times heartbreaking but also joyful.
The film also deals with race relations in subtle ways, a reflection of the very real problem still prevalent in the country. Rex and Polly must hide their relationship from their friends simply because he is a white man and she is a black aboriginal woman. They must be cautious because attitudes towards this type of thing are still negative.
Despite being an over-used plot contrivance for this kind of story formula, the characters Rex meets along his journey still manage to be engaging and breathe life into the film. Tilly is an aspiring soccer star energetically played by Mark Coles Smith and Julie, played by Emma Hamilton, is a British-trained Nurse looking to find her place in life. Rex is reminded to live life with spontaneity through Tilly and Emma re-finds her passion by compassionately taking care of Rex as his condition worsens.
The film is an emotionally satisfying journey that is relatable and crowd-pleasing. It is uplifting even in the face of death and it does an excellent job of reminding all of us that life is short, to love through human connections, and to live to the fullest of our ambitions.
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