AWARENESS OF YOUR OWN MORTALITY
Not an attractive title.
But a part of the human condition which arrives in increments after, for many of us, the Big 4-0. Was hoping to delay such a realization until after the Big 5-0, since both versions of the cop show were weakly staples during their runs, but this is something over which we have no control.
In "Living," Bill Nighy as Mister Williams, has put off such realization until the Big 7-0 . . . at least. He is in charge of the Department of Public Works at the Kafka-esque, London County Commission. Williams and his ossified staff spend entire work days avoiding responsibility with dignity, grace, fear, delusion, aplomb, manners, politeness, and despair. If a more wretched workplace has been shown cinematically, do not recall it. We know nothing of these people in dark suits, bowler hats, and cane umbrellas. They never speak of spouses, children, friends, social events, parents. Their existence relegated to a squeaking chair on casters imprisoned within the second floor confines of an architecturally constricted building, both inside and out.
Early, Mister Williams is presented with a death sentence. Cancer and about six months to live. Nighy, one of the finest actors of this or any generation, reacts in typical fashion. He stops going to work; contemplates suicide; and refuses to tell anyone "close" to him, including family and coworkers.
Until a chance meeting on the London streets with fellow inmate, Miss Harris, played by the heart-breaking Aimee Lou Wood. First names are not used in the film, another nod to the anonymity of the London County Commission.
Nighy strikes up a friendship with Miss Harris, and from the first encounter the proverbial scales drop from his eyes. Mister Williams has avoided life for, well, his whole life. He has six months. He will die. What is he going TO DO?
He returns to work and becomes the advocate, even the Don Quixote, of the construction of a public park in a WWII bomb site in downtown London. The three women of the park committee have tried in vain for years to get public works to approve the project. Nighy, with nothing to lose, trods the labrynthine halls of the government building and eventually succeeds in getting sign off by the lifelong bureaucrat Sir James (Michael Cochrane).
There is more to follow as the aforementioned ossified department which eventually loses Mister Williams, attempts to continue his legacy. Human nature, being what it is, will daunt them.
Two moments of note. Both involve Nighy singing "The Rowan Tree," a Scottish lullaby. His voice, weak and gravely when speaking, takes on a sweetness and clarity reminiscent of Billy Mack's rendering of "Christmas is All Around" from "Love Actually." He gives a tissue box worth of performance in both. Do not run to the fridge without hitting pause. Moments such as these are not a staple of modern filmmaking.
"Living" asks the question, do we live our lives, or just survive them? What if our timeline suddenly shrinks? Why do we wait so long to do that which society might not deem to be right, but we know is exactly so?
For Mister Williams, if not for a cancer diagnosis he might never have lived. What will it take for those in the throes of 'quiet desperation,' to steal part of a quote from Henry Thoreau?