Living: A Movie Review

James Lanternman
5 min readFeb 17
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

When you watch a movie in el cine, it can morph subtly before your eyes, surround your senses, capture your interest, and pull you in when you don’t expect it.

Living is not a great movie, but it offers a great movie-viewing experience.

For the first half hour I was thinking critically. I found myself wearing a critic’s hat, obscuring the view of the row behind me while mentally preparing a rant. It’s hokey, I thought. It’s not cinematic. It feels like television, the acting is wooden, the sets aren’t very good, the script is stuffy, the mood is dreary. It’s unknowingly conformist in its characterisations, across the board. And it feels a lot more pro-establishment than the source film, Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952).

The original delivers a sharp critique of bureaucracy, the complacent machinery of state, and its unrealised potential to help the lower classes. This one carries the same message, but with a softer tone that is kinder to the state, bureaucracy, and those who run it. I am not a fan of bureaucracy, and sensing this softening of message dismayed me.

At some point, though, I settled into my seat, took off my critic’s hat, and placed it by my feet. The row behind me applauded, their view now clear (for those who have not seen one, critic’s hats are elaborate, oversized accoutrements that measure at least 20 centimetres in height). The movie started speaking on a level that felt simply good natured. My critical thoughts largely faded away. I felt like standing up and angrily stomping on that critic’s hat. I had come into proceedings with the wrong mindset altogether.

Lesson learnt. Don’t bring your critic’s hat into the movie theatre with you. Just watch the damn thing, and give it time to speak to you.

As the story progressed the image also seemed to take on more cinematic character, and stop feeling like a television production. Maybe I needed some time to adjust to the Academy ratio — an aspect ratio I have great fondness for, built my own projector screen in, and which plenty of great modern films have been shot in, but is arguably harder to pull off in the cinema.

More than the film’s technical merits, though, I simply started to feel the “heart of gold” in the movie theatre. The Roger Ebert, “cinema as empathy-generating…

James Lanternman

Movie reviews, essays, and moonlit thoughts. Read more at jameslanternman.online.