We don’t know how. We don’t know when. But death comes for us all.
To be human is to wrestle with this truth and with the great unanswered question: How do we live with death in our eye? To borrow from Dylan Thomas (whose poem opens the film) do we go gently or raging against the dying light? Do we depart with equanimity or with anger? With clenched fists or more commonly with denial? Or do we see death as something to be fought and even possibly conquered, a challenge increasingly pursued by some of the brightest scientific minds? Finally, what are the stories we tell ourselves? Whether shaped by religion, science, art, the natural world, the power of love, do these narratives sustain us or do they fall away when we suddenly find ourselves ‘with skin in the game.’
Into the Night: Portraits of Life and Death, a two-hour feature documentary, features fascinating, unexpected voices from various walks of life: old and young, believers and nonbelievers, the dying and the healthy, well known and obscure. Among them: Caitlin Doughty, an alternative mortician and bestselling author with her own YouTube following; Adam Frank, an astrophysicist and NPR commentator, Gabriel Byrne, renowned actor of stage and screen; Jim Crace, award-winning novelist and environmentalist; Max More, a cryonicist and futurist; Stephen Cave, a British philosopher; Phyllis Tickle, a near-death experience spokesperson and religious historian; Pastor Vernal Harris, a Baptist minister and advocate for hospice care in African-American communities; Jeffrey Piehler, a Mayo Clinic heart surgeon. However varied their backgrounds, all are unified by their uncommon eloquence and intelligence, and most important by their dramatic experience of death. Each of them has been shocked into an awareness of mortality–and they are forever changed. For them death is no longer an abstraction, far away in the future. Whether through a dire prognosis, the imminence of their own death, the loss of a loved one, a sudden epiphany, or a temperament born to question, these are people who have truly ‘awakened’ to their own mortality.
Into the Night creates a safe smart place that allows people to talk about a subject of universal importance. It is the conversation we yearn to have, but too often turn away from in fear and distress. Yet our culture is at a critical turning point, driven in part by the baby boomer generation that is insisting on a new openness and on this deeper conversation. Our film speaks to this emerging movement with a novel approach meant to provoke searching conversations, both private and public.
Ultimately the film is meant to raise questions, not to provide answers. How could it? Death is “that undiscovered country,” as Hamlet so famously described it, “from whose bourn/No traveler returns.”