I’ve said before that a successful documentary shouldn’t simply be entertaining. It should also make an argument. Or at least present an argument. How To Die in Oregon certainly does that. This film presents arguments for and against (Ok, mostly for) the Death with Dignity Act, a law in Oregon that makes physician-assisted suicide legal, and it makes it in a way that never feels manipulative or exploitative. The film follows a number of terminally ill patients in Oregon who choose to take advantage of the Death with Dignity Act. Viewers follow patients as they make medical decisions, go to doctor’s appointments, and even as they take the medicine that will end their lives. Each story, no matter how much we know about the patient involved, is poignant and honest. But there’s one patient who becomes the focus of the film. Cody Curtis.
Cody Curtis: 54-year-old Curtis has been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. She’s a loving wife and mother, who’s devoted to her family and their happiness. The film follows her through her decision to learn more about her options, her doctor’s appointments, her time spent with family, and ultimately, her death. She’s an amazing, inspirational woman who is able to see the good in every situation, even as we watch her wither away as a result of her disease. Watching Curtis slip away is not easy, but in her final moments as she says, “It’s so easy,” one thing is for sure, this movie makes an amazing case for the Death With Dignity Act.
Prepare for Heartbreak: If you’re looking for a feel-good movie experience, this is not it. How To Die in Oregon is without a doubt one of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen. It might truly be the saddest. Ever. Losing Cody Curtis is hard. From the moment we meet her, we know that she’s going to die. And we know that we’re going to see it. There’s never any question of any of these people’s fates, but somehow, that doesn’t make it at all easier.
If It’s So Sad, Why Watch It? – If you’re into sad movies anyway (I am) then this question probably seems silly to you, but if you aren’t, I’m sure you’re wondering what the point of watching a film that’s going to break your heart is. The point is that it’s important. I know; I know. I hate when douchey film critics say pretentious stuff like this too, but it’s true. The issue of physician-assisted suicide really is something that we need to be aware of, if not actively talking about. This conversation is relevant and necessary, and How To Die In Oregon is the perfect way to learn something about the issue. It opens up dialogue for a heavy conversation about a controversial subject with grace, dignity, and what feels like a genuine care for the people involved.
If you don’t know very much about physician-assisted suicide, watch this film. If you know a lot about it, watch this film. Bottom line: Everyone needs to watch How To Die In Oregon. Watch to form an opinion. Watch to cry. And, more than anything else, watch for Cody Curtis, a beautiful, funny, strong woman, who was allowed to choose.