Assisted suicide is a controversial subject for a number of reasons. The legalities, the ethics and the right to owning your body and your self choice form part of the argument both for and against. The new movie Suicide Tourist covers these elements and others in a thoughtful and understanding manner.
Max (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is dying. He has been diagnosed with a brain tumour and is in the throes of a dilemma. He is very conscious of the fact that his quality of life is will deteriorate some time soon. He doesn’t want to be a burden to his wife but he is also aware of just what it will do to her if she has to see him fade away piece by piece. Through his work as an insurance agent he hears about The Aurora. They are an organization that helps people with terminal conditions to move on from this world. So, he signs up with them and it whisked away to their remote facility.
It is never easy taking on a topic like this and dealing with it in a subjective way. It works here as the focus is solely on the character of Max. He is the one facing the choices and trying to find a dignified way to move forward with what is left of his life, crucially in his own terms. He is shown as being a pragmatic man but is unable to tackle it alone. He wants someone else to make the decisions for him. This is shown in his suicide attempts where he is distracted by a car horn outside his house and a drowning attempt that is interrupted by an incoming phone call. He isn’t a coward though as there is very little that is brave about taking your own life.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has an excellent take on the character of the conflicted Max. His job is not the most exciting or glamorous but it suits his personality. He is quiet and reserved which leads to him closing himself off from his wife in a bid to try to minimise the impact of his eventual death. He obviously wants to spare his wife the pain but at the same time he is jeopardising the present and possible future memories she may hold of him. There is no flash or dramatic acting on show her. Most of the heavy lifting in terms of his performance is done through his body language and the range of facial expressions he is able to use to convey the despair, confusion and fear.
The facility that he ends up at is like the lair of a Bond villain. Set in a remote mountainous location it has all the trapping of a place of evil. That is the very impression that the film makers are trying to get across, so that they can play with your expectations. It is all very clinical and ordered which immediately makes you think of something else going on the basement. In fact during his stay Max ventures there out of curiosity. What is actually going on is left to the audience to decide based on the views of our protagonist.
Anyone looking for something close to a Jamie Lannister like character will be disappointed as this is a film that shows another facet to Coster-Waldau’s talents. The fact that he is comfortable taking risks on subjects like this is to be commended.