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Review: LIVING
by Karen Pecota

Oliver Hermanus, United Kingdom 2022

Based on Akira Kurosawa's 1952 film IKIRU, a reimagining of his projectunder the direction of Oliver Hermanus and a script from the Nobel and Booker Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro (author of the novels The Remains of a Day and Never Let Me Go) produces their collaboration with LIVING. Hermanus notes that while Kurosawa's storyline is fit for the Japanese culture and Ishiguro's storyline is prime for the English culture, the two narratives share a country's sense of imperial entitlement, their stoicism, and their emotional reserve--using the same characters set in the same era of history.

When asked about the meaning of LIVING, Hermanus sees a thread of universal themes, "At heart, this is a story about death affirming life. In the wake of a man realizing his life is coming to an end, he's pressured into living." Adding, "I always thought that this was an important story to tell today because we sort of live in distraction. We live looking at our cell phones, looking into the future. It's interesting to take a step back and wonder what it means to be present, actually, in your own life."

Actor Bill Nighy (Mr. Williams) agrees, "The film is about how we deal with mortality, and how to best appreciate the time that we are given. It's an opportunity to see what a regular person who has a very constrained existence does when they are brought face to face with extinction." Nighy continues, "Broadly speaking, what he (Mr. Williams) discovers is that what gives one's life meaning is doing something for someone else."

Actress Aimee Lou Wood (Margaret) views it as a call to empathy. She says, "I hope the audience will think, 'I'm going to talk to someone when I'm next getting a coffee,' or 'I'm just going now to talk to the person behind me in the queue,' or ‘Just ask someone how they are, and really listen when they tell you’.”


In 1953 the city of London, still torn apart from WWII, struggles to rebuild. Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy), a veteran civil servant, finds his mundane job, a bureaucratic bottleneck to many new petitions piled in his “in-box” that could better the city, if approved. His stalwart attitude sadly works against his ability to be progressive or helpful within his community, causing him personal suffering from loneliness and an empty existence without meaning.

A medical diagnosis reveals Mr. Williams' life expectancy will be drastically cut short. Given only a few months to live puts him into a tailspin of what to do with his days ahead. Following his doctor visit, Mr. Williams doesn't show up for work causing worry among his colleagues. His spontaneous attempt to frivolously self-indulge in sensual pleasures during his absence proves unsatisfactory. Not his ideal exit plan.

Mr. Williams returns to the London office and purposefully observes his job and his colleagues more intently. Two young people he supervised, Margaret (Aimee Lou Wood) and Peter (Alex Sharp) represent a side of life he had ignored for too long--a life full of love, respect, energy, and optimism. Their influence gives him a new perspective to pursue a life with meaning which leads Mr. Williams to leave a legacy of significant impact.