‘It gets more and more humiliating every time I survive.’
After Wilbur, of the film ‘Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself,’ utters these words to his brother, he becomes his roommate and thus begins an interesting and comedic adventure of adjusting to life and finding love and happiness.
The first English-language film from acclaimed award-winning director Lone Scherfig, ‘Wilbur Wants to Kills Himself’ is described by Scherfig as a showcase of the choice between life and death. This is most obvious in the title and the actions of the title character, but the movie also aims to demonstrate deeper themes of how to live one’s life. In Wilbur’s case, suicide seems less about escaping life and more about being obsessed with his own odd desire to kill himself. And of course, Wilbur’s chosen method is different every time.
When Wilbur (Jamie Sives) moves in with Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) after a suicide attempt following their father’s death, Harbour begins a search for a woman for his surprisingly stable younger brother. After more suicide attempts on Wilbur’s part and Harbour’s marriage to his bookstore regular Alice (Shirley Henderson), Harbour’s home/bookstore holds one big happy family that also includes Alice’s young daughter Mary (Lisa McKinlay).
On Mary’s 9th birthday, Harbour collapses in a supermarket and learns he is terminally ill with pancreatic cancer, which he keeps from his brother and his wife. The makeshift family acquires further complications as Wilbur develops feelings for Alice and they begin a seemingly unintentional affair (Wilbur even tries having a girlfriend in order to distract himself). Despite his efforts, Wilbur is suddenly happier than ever with Alice, who, while very much in love with Harbour, doesn’t want to lose either him or Wilbur.
‘Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself’ aims to contrast worlds of optimism and pessimism in two brothers with very different outlooks on life. Wilbur is somehow convinced that he doesn’t deserve life, while Harbour makes constant efforts to prove otherwise. Alice serves as an interesting point of conjunction, coming first to Harbour’s bookstore and then coming directly into his and Wilbur’s lives.
Furthermore, all three main characters have a significant connection to the hospital: It was Alice’s previous place of employment and her means for finding out about Harbour’s bookstore in the first place. It was also the site of Wilbur’s suicide therapy group and finally became Harbour’s haven during his illness.
Such themes add penetrable depth to the lives of these three characters and blur the otherwise obvious lines between choosing life or death, especially in Wilbur’s case. Wilbur adopts a much stronger sense of responsibility, although still lacking most of the expected accompanying maturity, and eases up on his suicide attempts in the process of taking care of Alice and Mary in Harbour’s absence.
The acting is well-executed, as Sives, Rawlins and Henderson are all very true to the personalities of their characters. Alice is quiet and altogether innocent despite her adultery, and Henderson’s petite frame and feminine mannerisms were a perfect template for her shy, kind character. Rawlins, despite his illness, is always the upbeat, optimistic older brother trying to ‘fix’ his younger, seemingly inexperienced brother Wilbur, whose fascination with suicide belies his unpreparedness for the true consequences of death.
Cinematography and costume design is gentle and uncomplicated; it is what should be expected of a film of this genre. The ease of transition from character to character and scene to scene frees the audience to absorb the material of the storyline without being distracted by experimentation typical of more artistically daring features. The musical score softens the film, smoothing what might otherwise be jagged edges and therefore earning the title of ‘icing on the cake.’
‘Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself,’ while bearing a title the director regrets for fear of no one wanting to see it, is a tasteful, unoffending look at the lives of three people just trying to get by in an atypical but not unusual fashion. There does not appear to be a struggle between or within characters as similar plot lines before it might suggest. Instead, Wilbur, Harbour and Alice just want the simplest kind of happiness; they just exercise different angles of approach, and when these different personalities convene under one roof, the results are witty, melancholy, charming and warm.
‘Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself’ will available to rent on April 19.