6. A documentary: End Game (2018)
List Progress: 11/12 (+32)
TW: Terminal illness, death.
When I sat down for some casual viewing last night, I turned on a documentary about terminal illness, palliative care and hospice. That might not seem like the most relaxing choice, but it ended up being soothing in its own way. 2018’s 40 minute Netflix documentary End Game follows people who are at the very end of battles with terminal illness and the conversations and choices they and their loved ones are having. Some choose to fight with new medical treatments until the very end, some choose inpatient hospice at a hospital, and some are being kept comfortable at the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. But all of them are making a choice and are given space to explore their options and try to have the sort of death they want. It’s sad, but also deeply beautiful.
At 40 minutes, the documentary can feel a bit compressed at places, but I can also understand that having it be feature-length could be overwhelming and a deterrent for audiences. There are stories that I wish could have been given more room, to unfold and flourish to the same degree as Mitra’s.
Mitra, a 45-year-old woman dying of cancer, and her family serve as a focal point of the documentary, and their story is handled with real delicacy and grace. Mitra is at a point in her illness where her mental faculties are inconsistent, so it falls to her husband and mother to have the discussions with her doctors and care team about what her final days should look like. This works well for the film because it externalizes their thoughts into discussion, and also paints a rich picture about what a death means to those around the dying. One of the most striking images is Mitra’s mother entertaining her infant grandson (Mitra’s nephew) in a hospital hallway in between meetings with doctors about Mitra’s eventual autopsy. It’s a cliché, but life does go on.
I think what struck me most about End Game was the aspect of choice and others respecting those choices. While the doctors might not agree with patients who reject palliative care for a more forceful option, the documentary treats their decisions with dignity and respect. We are in the middle of a global pandemic brought about by structural incompetence and malice, where so, so many people are dying in deeply unfair ways. No terminal illness is fair, but there is something soothing to me about seeing people being able to make their own choices and find their own peace, with the support of the people and systems around them. I wish that of all the people that die every day across the world, far more deaths were like that.
If you feel emotionally prepared to watch a delicate but direct film about the end of life, then I would certainly recommend End Game. I have been fortunate and have not personally had to engage with palliative care for any loved ones in my life, so I certainly understand that it might strike too close to home for some people. But if you feel up to it, this is a lovely documentary.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.