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Living (2022) is lovingly sentimental–if familiar

Living is lovingly sentimental–in its performances, as well as the themes and messaging that existed in Ikiru. It would have been a feat not to do a remake well. But Living is unfortunately too safe and doesn't dare to push far enough beyond its distinctive Britishness to stand alone. It is too neat and smooth to delve into the messy reality of human existence tackled by the original. It is simply the British Ikiru and, as lovely as that is, it is all it ever can be.

Fodderreviews

There is a popular quote I paraphrase a lot, usually in jest, at myself or my friends, “How we spend our days is how we live our lives”. It is a quote so frequently memed, I forget that there is a truth to it that elicits universal fear. Our lives really are just spent doing the mundane, the little things that shape our day-to-day.

Lifelong civil servant Williams (Bill Nighy) seems to feel this day-to-day weight when he confesses his terminal illness to his former coworker, Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood), in 2022’s Living. “Life just crept on me, one day proceeding the next… not happy, not unhappy”. Williams spends Living aware of his life’s impending end and pondering what it means to live a good life. It is an incredibly familiar story, partly because it explores the common fear of wasting our lives, but mostly because it is an adaptation of the 1952 Japanese drama, Ikiru. This film remains fairly true to the original source material, at least in concept. Perhaps too true, as Living, in all its grace and loving sentimentality, fails to be more than just a British remake.

Oddly, the film is at its best when it leans into its Britishness. Serene images of the countryside landscape, subtle humour relying on knowledge of etiquette and manners, and each character's distinct personality are all so incredibly 1950s upper-middle-class England, it is the only time that Living stands independently. Bill Nighy’s performance as reserved civil servant Williams has, to the surprise of no-one who has seen the film, been nominated for an Oscar. While mostly calm and quiet, Nighy’s own ability to explore such depth and richness even while sitting in a chair is a masterclass in dramatic performance that can move even the most detached soul.

Each moment of interaction between Williams and the rest of the cast is a lovely vessel to explore the characters’ various philosophies towards living. Troublemaker Mr Sutherland, played by Tom Burke, tries to give Nighy the best night of his life, but it devolves into self-destructive debauchery. His son, Michael, played in what I believe to be an underrated performance by Barney Fishwick, seems to be embarking on a life filled with the same wasted potential Williams had. It is Miss Harris who seems to provide something different. As he says to her over lunch, it is her “spark for life” that inspires him so much. She inspires Williams to dedicate his life to the construction of a park longed for by members of the community but which had always been delayed due to the bureaucracy.

The focus on the park, an answer to this looming question Williams has of how to spend the rest of his life, is so grounded and easily applicable that it is difficult not to be taken with the sentimentality of it all. Williams was one of the perpetrators of the bureaucratic complacency that never saw the park built. It is when Williams decides to see to it, in the last few months, that his legacy is shaped. The community and his colleagues remember him for simply choosing to build a small park, with a stranger knowing him purely because of his connection to a particular swing he sang on one night. This ending is so warming because it is so connected to the realities of life. The park’s real impact is in a small section of the neighbourhood–mainly the few children who live near it. But do we really need to change the entire world to have led a meaningful life?

However, this is also how Ikiru ends. This is the nature of adaptation that’s true. But if all your favourite parts of a movie are parts that are done better in the movie it’s based on, then the remake will never have the same impact or legacy.

Living is lovingly sentimental–in its performances, as well as the themes and messaging that existed in Ikiru. It would have been a feat not to do a remake well. But Living is unfortunately too safe and doesn't dare to push far enough beyond its distinctive Britishness to stand alone. It is too neat and smooth to delve into the messy reality of human existence tackled by the original. It is simply the British Ikiru and, as lovely as that is, it is all it ever can be.

 
Farrago's magazine cover - Edition One 2023

EDITION ONE 'RENAISSANCE' AVAILABLE NOW!

Our debut print edition of 2023 is here! Join us as we discover, explore and challenge the notion of rebirth and reawakening with Renaissance.

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