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Near Death

Screening on Film
Directed by Frederick Wiseman.
US, 1989, 16mm, black & white, 358 min.
Print source: Zipporah Films

Wiseman’s longest film is perhaps appropriately dedicated to the Great Inevitable— focusing on the medical workers, patients and relatives of those facing the end of life at the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital. The duration of the film makes death no easier or more difficult to confront, but it does allow the viewer the space to fully contemplate exquisite slices of heightened reality where humans seem their most human. Featuring all the frightening, absurd, graphic, painful, tender, awkward and peaceful moments alongside the clinical, casual, mundane and chilling, Near Death is also a study in the delicate communication of death, the minute considerations and cautious preparation—which the medical staff approach with an admirably conscientious care. As for the film’s duration, time itself stretches or shrinks for those waiting, hoping, watching or, finally, saying “goodbye.” Watching the film, time loses meaning. It becomes about life, these particular lives, and the human and mechanical systems in place to determine whether to prolong or curtail.

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2018 Norton Lectures in Cinema:
Frederick Wiseman

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