Taboo-breaking documentary films the moment of death
In the last seven minutes of Alan Hardy’s life he doesn’t groan, he doesn’t utter some profound last words, nor does he take a large sigh like death is often depicted in movies.
Instead as he lies in bed, his drawn-out breaths become further spread apart until they stop and he goes silently into the night.
The nurses gently wash the former London bus depot manager’s face and comb his hair. They knew he was close to dying and had been expecting it to happen over the last two days.
They say when a patient is very close to death the temperature changes in the room.
The pensioner in his 80s never feared the end of his life and instead welcomed it, which is why he agreed for his death to be recorded as part of a film called Island , directed by the artist and film-maker Steven Eastwood.
Some may see the scene as controversial, but Eastwood wanted to break the taboo of the last days and hours of life and the moment of death.
He wanted to push the limit and show death to be natural and everyday, but also unspeakable and strange.
Eastwood told The Guardian : "What’s interesting is there isn’t an image. You can’t see the dying.
"I think that’s fascinating, because to talk about how the film shows you the moment of death, I don’t know when that moment is. I’ve watched it over and over."
Alan is one of four people diagnosed with cancer whose final year of living is captured in the heartrending film as they receive end of life treatment at the Earl Mountbatten Hospice in Newport on the Isle of Wight.
In one scene Alan, who was always accompanied by a much-savoured cigarette, can be seen puffing away outside on a hospital bed and wrapped in blankets. His cancer was not smoking-related.
Meanwhile, for 40-year-old dad Jamie Gunnell, he never hid his illness from his young daughter. He told her everything she wanted to know and prepared to say goodbye as she reached her 5th birthday.
"She knows I’m going to die, she’s knows I’m going to heaven. I don’t want her to be afraid," he admitted.
The community rallied together to raise money so that Jamie could go on one last holiday with his young family to a caravan park on the island.
The lorry driver tried to keep things as normal as possible in his hospice bedroom by drinking beer, watching football, and making fun with his wicked – and often crude – sense of humour.
It was business of normal with ‘booze and banter’.
He was diagnosed with stage-four cancer after going to the doctors with a stomach ache.
“It came out of nowhere for him,” Eastwood said.
“Guinness cans and football, smoking a joint out the back, that’s how he wanted to die.”
However, in one scene Jamie’s face is stricken by fear and confusion as he’s totally alone and appears to almost be seeing life from the outside.
Mary Chessell – the only woman in the film – decided she wanted to go to her own home to see out her final days. She had survived numerous strokes and heart attacks, and was managing late stage cancer.
But the biggest challenge Mary faced was isolation. With long days to fill in a big house, her chief companion was her television.
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While for Roy Howard, a former university librarian, his main concern was about his boyfriend David, who was struggling cope emotionally.
Roy had devoted himself to supporting friends, family and his beloved Catholic church and had lengthy chats to pass the time during blood tranfusions.
The film was shot between June 2015 and July 2016.
Roy Howard died in December 2015; Alan Hardy died in April 2016; Jamie Gunnell died in July 2016; and Mary Chessell died in September 2016.
Island is released in the UK on September 14.
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