Movie Review: ‘Dick Johnson is Dead’
Five Stars out of Five
By Joanna MacGown
“Dick Johnson is Dead”(available on Netflix) is, strictly speaking, a documentary about director Kirsten Johnson and her father, C Richard Johnson, coming to terms with his dementia diagnosis and impending death.
It is also a heartfelt meditation on grief, including the pain of the loss of memory from dementia. But it manages to avoid sentimentality or drowning in sorrow through its irreverent sense of humor, a reflection of Dick Johnson himself.
The film explores the inherent artificiality of filmmaking, both through direct conversations about the director’s profession and the filmmaking itself. There are several dramatizations of ways the title character might die, and a few imaginings of the afterlife, and afterward it goes back to show the thought process and technical details that went into making them.
As the film goes on, dementia gradually shifts from a barely relevant “future” to a painful reality. And with COVID-19 devastating our elderly populations, the focus on death feels timely rather than morbid. It makes me wish I’d spent time with my own grandfather in the past few years, who also had dementia and was recently taken by the virus.
The movie is a celebration of the life Dick Johnson still has to live, just as much as a contemplation of mortality. And now that it seems everyone is contemplating mortality, that’s a welcome shift in perspective.
Long live Dick Johnson.