Review: A Finished Life: The Goodbye & No Regrets Tour
You hear phrases like 'fact is stranger than fiction' all the time. People constantly share heartfelt and truly miraculous real life stories; then they get in their Aerostar vans and drive over to the cineplex to watch Twilight for the umpteenth time. Meanwhile, if you're a documentary filmmaker and your name isn't Michael Moore, you've got a better chance of becoming the Vice President than seeing any substantial commercial success from a film that captures the same raw emotions and intensity as the true-to-life tales we often tell each other.
Most of the time, it's a slight shame that this is the case. Sometimes, it's totally understandable. After all, a lot of people go to see films as a means of escape, so they don't want to be burdened by the truth and reality that surrounds them already, even if the documentary is a comedy. Every once in a while, though, it is an absolute travesty that documents don't get more print than their fictionalized counterparts.
For A Finished Life: The Goodbye & No Regrets Tour, this is certainly the case. One screening of this film and you will probably be infuriated, enraged, that you haven't heard of it before. It is mesmerizing, heartbreaking, resonating, powerful. It is so many things that describing it here will never do the film justice. It won't fill you back up with the ounces of tears streaming down your face, and this review will never stand next to you at work while you tell that girl in marketing about the transcendent film you caught the night before. I guess you could print this review out and post it in the break room. That might help (and would be awful nice of you). But what you ultimately need to do is see A Finished Life for yourself.
A Finished Life tells the incomparably true story of Gregg Gour, a 48-year-old Los Angeles gay man who has lived with AIDS for exactly half of his life. Eventually, after his parter and most of his friends have long-since passed, Gregg decides to quit taking his AIDS medication. After a year-and-a-half of living med-free, he is given a sobering medical prognosis: six months to live. At this point, Gregg makes the courageous decision to continue to live life on his terms, and always in control. Rather than running to the medical crutch that has served only to hobble him slowly, emotionally, for decades, Gregg trades in his future for the most beautiful 6-month ride across the country that you will ever see. After selling or giving away all of his possessions, save for a few meticulously categorized filing boxes, Gregg purchases an RV and begins making stops across America to anyone who has touched his life.
Along the way, the RV makes stops at the homes of family and friends alike, and what plays out is very akin to a living funeral. Each person he encounters is very aware of Gregg's life choices, his limited future, and the ultimate sacrifice he is willing to make if necessary, so that he can live (and die) on his terms. Each encounter is heartbreakingly honest in its own right, but when taken as a greater tapestry, the six month sum is simply insurmountable. Yet the film rolls along, silently plodding behind Gregg as he leaves those he loves, has the same discussion with dozens of people, and reaches the same terrifyingly obvious conclusions. And when his body begins to degrade but not disintegrate, Gregg must face the final conclusion, but with the dignity, faith, and hopefulness you quickly come to associate with him.
A Finished Life is an immaculate example of what courageous documentary film-making looks like. It is always involved but never invasive, it openly captures the best and worst of a man who has made an irrevocable decision and must now smile in the face of a future that has a very clear ending. Sometimes shaky camerawork, gaps in time (when Gregg is encountering the solitary confines of his RV and the open road), a dozen small issues with the film itself are quickly wiped away with your tears the moment Gregg tells a joke, or opens up about the pain he is always feeling, but never showing. And the ending of A Finished Life, which cannot even be commented on here, will pull your heart from your chest. If you see this film, you will tell your friends about it. You will cry. And you will wonder why in the world you never heard about it before. Well, as a eulogy to the flimsy debates against the rights of terminally ill patients to die with dignity, A Finished Life should not only be heard of, it should be trumpeted across rooftops and in movie houses until the rest of the world takes notice.
Currently, A Finished Life: The Goodbe and No Regrets Tour is working on securing several deals to bring this film to a wider audience, but the wonderful filmmakers encourage you to stay up to date on upcoming screenings and general news at their website.
A Finished Life: The Goodbye and No Regrets Tour. Photo courtesy Greenie Films.