‘Living’ – Review

Based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film, Ikiru, Oliver Hermanus’s Living gently addresses the heavy question of what truly matters in life. Bill Nighy delivers career-best work alongside a wonderful ensemble, including Aimee Lou Wood and Alex Sharp.

The source material for Living is one of the most cherished films on mortality and set quite a high bar for the film, but Living hit the mark. The film is a beautiful look at mortality and where the real joy in life can be found. Hermanus’s film still sets out to answer the question, “What would you do if you only had months left to live?” but does so in finding happiness in the still moments of life.

Mr. Williams (Nighy) is a widower and source of some dismay for his subordinates at the Office of Public Works, including new employee Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp). Instead of taking action at his job, Mr. Williams quite often just pushes paper around without any plans to eventually take initiative for the work. When Mr. Williams is diagnosed with a terminal illness, his reaction is out of character; he stops attending work, makes no fuss, and withdrawals all money from his bank account. Mr. Wakeling and Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood) immediately worry for Mr. Williams in his absence, but the rest of the office carries on as normal.

Miss Harris spots Mr. Williams out of the office and the two form a friendship with ease. Mr. Williams regains a yearning for life due to Miss Harris’ youthful spirit and willingness to chase her dreams. Mr. Williams mourns for his youth, but at the same time learns to live in the moment through his friendship with Miss Harris. Nighy and Wood have amazing chemistry together on screen and play off one another in such a playful manner with their polite awkwardness. Miss Harris tells Mr. Williams at one point she used to call him ‘Mr. Zombie’ as he was dead, but not dead. Their friendship progresses not only through their honesty towards one another but also the way in which they need something different from each other.

Screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro brings an updated perspective to Kurosawa’s classic film; he retains the structure, but gives the story, while set in the 1950s, an update to feel more lived in for the modern audience. Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s stunning score transports the audience back in time and elevates any mundane office setting. Sandy Powell’s exquisite costume design is a standout with classic 1950s suiting. The real standout of the film is Nighy with truly some of the best work of his career. From his stunning performance of ‘The Rowan Tree’ in a bar to sitting in the still darkness upon receiving news of his terminal illness, Nighy soars in Living. The film is an absolute showcase for Nighy as a leading man playing to his absolute strengths.

Living is a quiet, unassuming film that truly is beautiful in its stillness. The film is a stunning adaptation of a classic that elevates its source material while still staying true to its very core. Living is tender and anchored by a masterful performance from Nighy.

Grade: A-

Oscars Prospects:
Likely: Best Lead Actor (Bill Nighy), Best Adapted Screenplay
Should be Considered: Best Original Score, Best Costume Design

Release Date: December 23, 2022
Where to Watch: In Select Theaters

Kenzie Vanunu
she/her @kenzvanunu
Lives in LA with her husband, daughter and dog. Misses Arclight, loves iced vanilla coffees.
Favorite Director: Darren Aronofsky
Sign: Capricorn

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