By: Jessica Goddard
Obit is an irresistibly insightful film that completely delivers on its implicit promise to answer every question you ever had about obituaries (plus the questions you didn’t know you had).
This is a film that’s all about people and their stories; both the exceptional, and the unexceptional. And, the thing about this movie is that the filmmaker really, really gets it. Director Vanessa Gould knows what her audience is expecting, but does a fantastic job of offering more until it’s hard to believe a documentary on this subject hasn’t been made before.
Gould’s film takes you inside the prestigious office of The New York Times’ obituary department – one of the last of its kind – where you meet the real life “obituarist” team. Audiences get to see what the department’s workdays look like, and the kind of process that goes into writing fresh, truthful, and often inspiring obituaries to be read by millions. Sometimes it’s exactly what you imagined, and other times it’s surprising, or it’s funny, or it’s deeply profound. This is an intensely thoughtful documentary. Even the title’s abbreviation is a perfect analogy for the premise: the result of taking a longer, more elaborate and complicated thing and condensing it into a neat and pleasing shorter form.
Obit brilliantly and artistically juxtaposes the mundanity of daily routines with the exquisite drama of what a life looks like at a distance, with all its exhilaration, turbulence, and mystery. Yes, the subjects of the documentary are writers themselves, but this cast of characters are so perceptive, witty, or subtly whimsical that their interviews almost seem scripted. Often you find yourself wishing you were in the room with them, feeling like these people would be great to talk with about any number of subjects. There is something so uniquely human about watching people discuss what they are passionate about; especially when it is an occupation that is so uncommon.
Another intriguing accomplishment of Obit is how it effortlessly takes you back to that quiet fascination you felt as a child when you’d meet a firefighter in the flesh, or get to shake the hand of the pilot of your plane, or see your own parents in their work environment for the first time. This documentary reminds you of just how complex and expansive our world is, and in this respect, does exactly what a great documentary should do. Make no mistake – this is not a sad movie; this movie is a celebration. A celebration of art and literature, of human connection, and what it means to live a complete life.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod