I soaked my sweater with tears: The Last Flight Home review

If you plan to see The last flight home at the cinema, don’t make any plans for after that, because then you’ll be all set. I soaked the top half of my sweater from crying and then had to race home to wring it out. It is an intrepid documentary by filmmaker Ondi Timoner that follows her father in the last days of his life until the moment he dies. Old age is no place for wimps, Bette Davis once famously observed, and neither does this movie. But it is also about how to live, how to be human, and so full of love and respect. Besides, the older you get, the less sissy you can be. (At least, I think so.)

Ondi Timoner (To dig!, We live in public, Mapplethorpe) only intended to film her father, Eli, so she would have some footage for his memorial, but then proceeded to film with his full permission. It never feels exploitative. At first, 92-year-old Eli is in the hospital with breathing difficulties and heart disease. He had suffered a stroke at the age of 53, was paralyzed on one side of his body and could only walk with a cane. Now he is bedridden. He is in constant pain, exhausted, fed up, and doesn’t want to be a burden to his devoted wife and Ondi’s mother, Lisa. He begs Ondi to help him exercise his rights under California’s End of Life Option Act, which allows mentally competent, terminally ill adults to self-administer a lethal dose of drugs. Once they are on this path, it takes 15 days for the drugs to be administered. Now the countdown begins.

He is taken back to his and Lisa’s modest home in Pasadena, where the rest of his devoted family gathers. There are Ondi’s two siblings (David, a film and TV editor, and Rachel, a rabbi) and several grandchildren. In turn, while Eli can barely open his eyes, he is very charming, very sharp and totally devoted. ‘Are you afraid?’ he has been asked. No, he says. “I do believe that I will look over my wife and my children and protect them.” He gives advice to one of his (crying) grandchildren: ‘Respect the people you don’t know and love the ones you do know.’

Eli was clearly an extremely caring, generous man. Zoom calls are lined up so he can say goodbye to several people, including the au pair who came to work for the family when she was 18. She says, “You were the first man I ever saw who was a great father, so kind to everyone.” Career-wise, he had been a big deal. As an entrepreneur, he had founded Air Florida, once the fastest growing airline in the world. He suffered his stroke in 1982 as a result of, can you believe, a neck injury sustained during a massage after a game of tennis. He was asked to resign from Air Florida’s board of directors because his disability did not look good for the company. Money problems followed and he had to borrow from friends ‘like a gutter rat’. He adds, “It was so painful and I felt so much shame.” The family wants him to shake off this guilt. “What you’ve given us,” says Rachel, “is love and care, and we want you to know how good you are and that you’re a shining light.”

The 15th day dawns. It’s a three-step process: one for vomiting, another to slow the heart, and then the barbiturate overdose. You see the moment of his death, which is both incredibly unremarkable and incredibly disturbing. It ends with Rachel’s words at Eli’s memorial: “The true value of a life is measured in love, and in this he has succeeded insanely.”

Then you have to run home to wring out your sweater.

The post I’ve Soaked My Sweater With Tears: The Last Flight Home Review appeared first on The Spectator.

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