The Event

on October 03, 2003 by Annlee Ellingson
Couched in the narrative framework of an investigation by the New York district attorney's office, writer/director Thom Fitzgerald's “The Event” tackles the controversial political issue of assisted suicide with sensitivity and grace. The film begins with the death of an AIDS patient, Matt (Don McKellar), who has apparently staged a party--the event in question--to celebrate his passing away on his own terms. Nick (indie staple Parker Posey) has been assigned to investigate the incident and several other similar occurrences in the Chelsea area. Over the course of her inquiry, she interviews Matt's mother Lila (Olympia Dukakis), sisters (Sarah Polley and Joanna Adler) and friends (Brent Carver and Jane Leeves) and reexamines her own feelings on the issue.

The story is told in flashback, with datelines delineating the passage of time and the progression of the disease (a conceit that interrupts, rather than aids, the flow of the story). Fitzgerald and cinematographer Thomas M. Hartin also employ visual cues to differentiate the present from the past: cold, hard, faded blues when the event is still fresh and the characters are mourning; golden tones during Matt's happiest and even most miserable times.

“The Event's” greatest strength is the quiet way in which it depicts the ravages of the virus. In one particularly moving scene, Fitzgerald simply sets up the camera to watch Lila bathe and dress her son--who is so weak from the disease that he cannot sit up in bed, lift his head, move his arms--in one long, still take. It is moments such as this that are integral to Fitzgerald's political view: It is important for the audience to see Matt's quality of life--rather, lack thereof--to understand why, when he appears so healthy, he takes his own life.

And why the people who love him most agree to help him. It is clear that, in the present-day scenes, the film is very much about Matt's friends and family who are now implicated in a crime: The characters are shot close up, sometimes extremely so, during questioning. It is now their story.

As a woman recently put in a similar situation at the request of her dying father, Nick is supposed to represent the counterargument. “All these people knew a guy was going to kill himself, and they did nothing,” she says. “It makes me sick.” Yet, somehow, in the writing or in Posey's delivery, one doesn't believe her. The film perhaps misses an opportunity here to pose a serious debate.

Nick ultimately concludes, “I hope I did the right thing,” as does Lila, whose actions in a revelation late in the film add further poignancy to an already moving film.

Also of note is the film's brief tribute to September 11, with an elegant shot of the New York skyline as the Twin Towers fade from view and a montage of American flags adorning New York. It was perhaps an homage that the filmmakers couldn't not include, given they were shooting in the Big Apple just after. Still, however sensitive, it takes one out of the story. Starring Brent Carver, Olympia Dukakis, Jane Leeves, Don McKellar, Sarah Polley and Parker Posey. Directed by Thom Fitzgerald. Written by Tim Marback, Steven Hillyer and Thom Fitzgerald. A ThinkFilm release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 105 min

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