‘Dick Johnson is Dead’ is a documentary made about the end of Dick Johnsons life, as told by his daughter Kirsten Johnson. This documentary covers an experience that is incredibly personal and still relatable. Kirsten prepares her father for his death by allowing him to view his own memorial service, work with a stuntman to imitate his possible demise in various scenes, all while capturing the realness of his deteriorating mind due to altimeters.
When I think of explaining this premise to someone who hasn’t seen it, I’d imagine in their mind they see much more sadness than is actually in the story. Yes, the loss of a loved one, and a patriarch of a family is incredibly difficult. What ‘Dick Johnson is Dead’ does is take the idea of death and how people traditionally mourn or prepare for a loss, and explores it with love, funny moments, and a heartfelt tribute to Dick himself.
I too felt hesitant in indulging in the films subject matter with enjoyment. A lot of red flags immediately came to mind as to the ethics of having your father with a degenerative disease be the focal point of his daughters documentary. Is it morally sound to stage multiple death scenes with a stuntman paid to only visualize horrific accidents that befall your own father? Or to be witness to his own funeral watching loved ones weep for him as he looks inward from the other room? Director Kirsten Johnson toes a fine line between making her films tone positive and in many cases funny, but not to overindulge that side and to keep the central message grounded in reality.
Dick Johnson is a man that we all know. He’s sweet, charming, and what you’d expect from a loving father, and grandfather. I myself even found my own grandpa while watching Dick Johnson scarf down his favorite cake, with his mannerisms and in his speech being so similar and loving. I fell in love and sympathized with the man and his struggle to grasp what was happening in real time. I’m sure it was difficult for him to be able to always have such a positive outlook during times of uncertainty. But like the film alludes to, I believe he wasn’t doing this for himself, but for the love of his brilliant daughter.
If you see ‘Dick Johnson is Dead’ on Netflix please don’t overlook it to avoid feeling sorry or sad about what you are watching. The film is just the opposite. It embraces and celebrates death, life, and everything in between, and I would recommend it to anyone with an hour and a half to kill. (no pun intended oh god…)
‘Dick Johnson is Dead’ gets an 8.5/10