Reviews June 2022
Helping a loved one to die
Everything Went Fine
Directed by François Ozon
Certificate 15, 113 minutes
Released 17 June
France. Two daughters, Emmanuèle and Pascale Bernheim (Sophie Marceau and Géraldine Pailhas), visit their 85-year-old father André Bernheim (André Dussollier) as he recovers from a stroke. The process is slow and difficult, and he may never make a full recovery. André has lived life to the full, often looking to himself rather than those around him, and has come to a decision. Separately he tells each of them, ‘I want to die.’
In his current state of health, André considers life no longer worth living and wants to be able to end it while he still has the mental and physical capacity to do so. Ironically, this serves as a driver for his recuperation, since he wants to be well enough to carry out whatever tasks this entails.
André enlists Emmanuèle, his favourite daughter, to find out how she should go about facilitating the process of assisted dying. She discovers that it’s not allowable under French law. Emmanuèle contacts a woman who runs a clinic in Switzerland (Hanna Schygulla). If they can book a suitable date, and can get André there from France, then he can end his life there as he wishes.
Emmanuèle’s lawyer informs her she needs to cover herself to avoid prosecution in France, so she films André on her mobile unambiguously explaining his intentions. There are relatives and friends to be contacted and a grandson’s concert to be attended before he dies. As the time nears, however, unexpected obstacles arise. The proceedings take on the air of criminal subterfuge involving police, informants, and the religious objections of their Muslim cab driver.
Based on the real life Emmanuèle’s book of her experience of her father’s attempt at assisted suicide, it’s not a drama conjured out of nowhere but has its roots in her family’s history. Ozon directs with great sympathy for both the big picture and lots of little details within it, making this an invaluable contribution to the debate around a tough and highly controversial topic.
Natural history of faith
How Religion Evolved and Why it Endures
‘You’ve killed God,’ some may have cried when Darwin first published his theory of evolution. No one can doubt that the discovery of natural selection did involve a lot of reframing of traditional theology. Today’s New Atheists maintain that Darwin sounded the death knell of religion.
However, in How Religion Evolved and Why it Endures, evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar shows not just how religion has developed but how it is an integral part of human nature.
The author makes two main claims. Firstly, that the evolution of religion is underpinned by a ‘mystical stance’. This capacity, he says, depends partly on high-order cognitive skills that seem to be peculiar to modern humans, and partly on the role of the endorphin (happiness) system. He points out that the neurobiology that allows engagement with a transcendent world also provides the basis of social bonding…
Andrew McLuskey is a retired minister in the United Reformed Church
A dog’s eye view
Walking with my God
Nick Stanyon; illustrated by Jessica Lee
£7.99 from the URC Bookshop
Tackling important topics while writing about the exploits of your dog is an enterprise at which few people are likely to succeed. Potential readership may not extend far beyond the one-third of UK households that have a dog. The Labour deputy leader, Roy Hattersley, marked the end of being a serious politician when he wrote about his dog, Buster, but just how many interesting stories are there to be told about anyone’s pet?
Answering the last question first, Nick Stanyon provides 32 reflections, which are simply and purposefully presented. Even if the reader is not that fond of dogs, as the incidents unfold, the relationship between a rescued border collie, Nina, and her human companions provides a clear lens through which to view both the vagaries of life and the truths which lie at the heart of the Bible. In fact, it is through seeing life at dog’s eye level that ‘heaven in ordinary’ is glimpsed, understood and affirmed…
This article was published in the June 2022 edition of Reform