Aaron R. Davis
The trailer for Now Is Good promised me only half of what I felt after watching it.
The trailer previewed the story of a kid, dying from leukemia, who was trying to fit a lifetime’s worth of love and experience into the short amount of time she had left. The song in the trailer was “Do You Realize?” by the Flaming Lips. It’s the exact same song that was playing in the car when I drove to see my sister Ellen on that day in 2006 after my Dad called and told me she had died.
And that’s the other half of what I felt. Because this movie brought it all back. All of the grief and desperation and anger and sadness and terrible resignation of that time in my life that was the end of my sister’s.
I have a hard time with cancer movies, especially child cancer movies. Not because they put me back in that place, but because they gloss over it too much, romanticize it too much and manufacture emotions that never approach the reality. I hated My Sister’s Keeper because I felt it exploited emotions that, as depicted, felt phony. They felt “big” and “dramatic” and not organic. It was about a medical science fiction situation, and I didn’t like the way it used emotionalism to get to obvious conclusions. It never felt like a movie about a little girl who was going to die. I know, because I’ve been there, and it wasn’t familiar to me. It was … well, it was a movie, and a movie I just didn’t like.
Now Is Good gets a lot of things right about having this happen to someone in your family. It gets the emotions right and, more importantly, deals with them. It gets all of the reactions right: the family member who flees because it’s too hard to watch and confront; the family member who immerses themselves in all of the science of cancer and the lore of alternative treatments and the patient herself, who can only accept that, yes, she will die one day, and it’s terribly unfair, but it’s going to happen sooner than it should. There’s a love story, there are scenes of holding on to new experiences and knowing they will never happen again; but it never feels like bullshit to me. I’m not sure if that’s because I remember the way I felt and it seems genuine, or because I want Ellen to have had moments like that somewhere during all of the horrible illness and the terrible chemo and the awful sickness that chemo itself brings.
Like the girl in the movie, Ellen stopped treatment, too. She didn’t live very long after that. Like the girl in the movie, she died in her sleep. She went to bed and didn’t wake up one morning. My Dad was with her. I remember driving there, and hearing that song, and what it was like arriving and seeing her in bed, dead and cold, and kissing her head and touching her hand. I remember that. What I don’t remember is driving back home at all. It’s just not there. How strange not to remember that.
Not every movie brings me back to that. I loved 50/50, and I saw a lot in it that I recognized, but this one was much more personal. What destroyed me, then, was a single moment, after she’s learned she’s going to die very, very soon — sooner than she had hoped, but it’s always sooner than you hope. Her father (Paddy Considine) breaks down before her and tells her: “I only ever wanted to help you. I don’t want you to leave. I can’t bear it. Take me with you.” It devastated me to watch because that was once me. Pleading with God, praying, screaming, demanding that he take me instead of her. Yes, I had that moment. The atheist at the end of his rope, totally desperate, confronting his beliefs and not sticking by them because, damn it, if there was a chance that the inevitable could be avoided, I would have recanted everything I’d ever said. And then finding his beliefs cemented and reaffirmed in the worst way possible.
This would be a sad, touching movie, anyway, but, just remembering that … death in movies is different to me now than it was 15 years ago. Since 2000, I’ve lost my grandmother, three aunts, one uncle, my pet rabbit and my sister. I can’t see a funeral scene or a hospital scene in a movie and not know the weight of that, the feel, the smells, the grimness and lightness that can come. I know you all know, too. It’s a part of life, a part of growing up, a part of getting older. But it stings more when it’s someone younger than us, someone with their whole lives in front of them.
What this movie made me think about, which I never really had before, is that the hardest part of knowing you’re going to die must be imagining all of the things you’ll never experience — the things you want to do and never will, because you won’t be there — and having to make peace with that knowledge. It sounds terrible. I wish Ellen had never had to contemplate it until she was much, much older. Instead, she was 13.
And here it is, six years later. I’m still not over it. You never get over it. It just hurts a little less each year. And sometimes something triggers it all again and you cry and you sob and you feel the deepest despair. And then you put it into perspective and slowly find the peace you’ve made with it and know that, as time moves on, that peace is a little less contentious and is a little easier to maintain.
There are just days, and for me, today is one.
Now Is Good is a beautiful movie. I’m not sorry it made me feel like this. But I may never be able to watch it again. I’m just glad I saw it once. I hope the thing finally gets released in America so that you can see it, too. Even if it’s only the once.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.