There is a Jewish saying that people often say after someone dies: “May their memory be a blessing.” It symbolizes different things to different people, but is used as a positive remembrance, a way to both honor and extend the virtue of the deceased. Ondi Timoner’s deeply moving documentary, “The Last Flight Home,” ends with a version of this phrase. But each scene serves as an example of its many meaningful aspects.
Timoner films – including two Sundance Grand Jury Prize winners, “Dig!” and “We Live in Public” – searchable and intense, but never have dig deeper than this. Last year, when her father Eli was 93 years old and failing rapidly, he announced that he wanted to take his own life. Because his home state of California has a Death with Dignity law, he has the freedom to choose under carefully regulated conditions. The first of these is the 15-day waiting period – and this is the time Timoner records.
While documentary writer Kirsten Johnson took a highly conceptual approach to her father’s decline in the 2020 Sundance feature film “Dick Johnson Is Dead,” Timoner uses a reduced approach, completely simple. She placed a camera in her parents’ living room, where her father was resting on a hospital bed and her mother was quietly worried on the couch. And then she started counting down the days.
On Day 15, the family reminisces about their lives together. Through old home footage and faded photos, we see Eli and his wife, Lisa, as a handsome couple with three cute little children. Eli founded Air Florida in 1972, and Timoner shows us in various ways that the company’s motto – “Fly a Little Kindness” – reflects Eli’s lifelong personal ethos.
He is a philanthropist and fundraiser for a wide range of important causes and as we learn from past employees, he aims to treat everyone in his company with respect. Equality. Although Eli and Lisa mention some serious financial difficulties, their daughter mainly focuses on the positive. If there are rifts between this close-knit clan, we don’t hear about them. And here’s the feeling: It’s a film about the impact of one man’s life, and Ondi’s father is, in the end, a force to be reckoned with.
On the 12th, the family and their heroic hospice nurse began a realistic assessment of Eli’s impending death, lining up for doctors and discussing medication. A draft obituary is read to him on Day 7, and an encounter with a death doula is established on Day 5. On Day 2, his grandsons go into his closet him to choose the ties they would wear to his funeral.
If this sounds unbearably sad, well – let’s just say it’s probably best if you can watch this movie in the privacy of your own home, with a huge box of tissues packed right in your hand. .
But it’s Eli who really defines the tone, and it’s interesting to see how he handles this most human experience and humility. He can’t get out of bed or speak with much force. But he is not sad, not bitter or even afraid. He is utterly grateful to be given the freedom to choose when and how to define his final days. As he Zooms with old friends and colleagues who reminisce about tennis matches and business meetings, we can see how the most fleeting moments make up memories. As he prays to Rachel, sister of Ondi, a Priest, we witness firsthand the value of traditional ritual.
He told his heartbroken wife that he had every intention of going to Heaven, where he would “make some kind of protective shield around your life.” First, however, his family plans to do the same for him.
After one of his grandsons asked him for advice on how to live well, Eli said, “Start with respect for those you don’t know and love for those you do know.” The “Last Flight Home” represents the outcome of a life that has already existed by this standard. Timoners’ tiny living room is so filled with love for Eli that we can almost see a robe of gratitude, respect, and affection surrounding him at all times.
He remained a proud liberal until the very end, but despite the controversial nature of California’s End of Life law, Ondi never explicitly brought politics into the film (despite having a cameo in the film). very sweet invitation from Rachel Maddow). She doesn’t need to. It’s hard to imagine anyone judging Eli for choosing, as Ondi said, “to think and be sober about his passing.” She also said with gratitude that the choice was a luxury many others never had, a point underscored by the pandemic masks worn by his guests. .
Timoner’s films are always entertaining or engaging, but they also begin with irresistible appeal, like rock stars with bad behavior (“DIG!”) or artists living a hard life computer (“Brand: A Second Coming”, biopic “Mapplethorpe”). Here, she uses her talents and experience to tell the humble story of a man who lives quietly, as a devoted husband, friend, and devoted father. Bringing in simplicity, authenticity and beauty in humanity, “Last Flight Home” is a lucky thing that Eli Timoner earned.
“Last Flight Home” made its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
https://www.thewrap.com/last-flight-home-film-review-documentary-ondi-timoner/ Beautiful documentary about Father’s last days