Last Flight Home
Sundance Film Festival Special Screenings Section
Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Ondi Timoner
Screened at: Sundance Film Festival Online, LA, 1/25/22
Opens: January 24th, 2022
Saying goodbye to a beloved family member or friend is never easy. But there is such a stigma that exists around death in the United States – and much of the world – that people are afraid or unwilling to talk about its inevitability until it happens or looms near. In many cases, the point at which someone might be ready to confront it is too late, and the closure and comfort that can come from a planned and well-intentioned death will be lost. Filmmaker Ondi Timoner movingly captures her father Eli’s final days as he plans to medically end his life in Last Flight Home.
Eli Timoner, once a successful airline CEO who suffered a stroke early in his career, has received a terminal diagnosis and is in terrible pain. Because he lives in California, he is able to request medical aid in dying, which requires him to get the authorization of two separate physicians and endure a fifteen-day waiting period between each step of the process to ensure that he actually wants to go through with it. His daughter Ondi documents everything, which includes her sister, Rabbi Rachel Timoner, flying in from New York to join the rest of the family as the end approaches.
This is an extremely emotional film, one that shows its featured family at their most vulnerable. But it also displays the tremendous power that facing the unavoidable and preparing for it can bring. Eli is able to communicate and express how he is feeling, that he is pain and no longer wishes to live. He still possesses his signature humor and remembers all the people in his life, and is treated to warm Zoom calls and visits from those whom he has interacted with over the course of a long and well-regarded time on this earth.
This is also an important showcase of the laws that exist in certain states which enable people like Eli to utilize medical aid in dying. The rules are specific, including that he must be able to hold and take the medication himself, which presents a challenge when his arm strength and energy level suggest he might not be able to do that on his own. This scenario is the best possible advertisement for the value of such permissions, as Eli repeatedly says without any hesitation that he knows this is what he wants and that he understands its finality.
Last Flight Home functions as an individual testimony for the route its subject takes, but it’s just as much about the people surrounding Eli and how they experience his loss. His children and grandchildren express disbelief at how Eli still considers himself a failure due to his stroke and his inability to effectively lead his company in the same way after that, a notion starkly countered by the many loving individuals lining up for the chance to say goodbye to him. They are also able to clearly hear his wishes and to hear him tell them how he authentically feels during their final visits together.
Ondi has brought films to Sundance before, winning the Grand Jury Prize for both Dig! and We Live in Public. Here, she inserts herself into her own project only minimally, indicating in conversations about the film that she never intended to make a movie about her family. Last Flight Home invites audiences into an intimate situation that feels distinctly personal and specific and at the same time should remind anyone watching of at least some aspect of a loss they have experienced. In its portrayal of a farewell to one particular person, this film channels universal sentiments towards death while spotlighting a course that offers some degree of peace.
Story – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+