Exit Plan (2019)

Rating: C

Dir: Jonas Alexander Arnby
Star: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Tuva Novotny, Robert Aramayo, Jan Bijvoet

The original title, Selvmordsturisten, translates as “Suicide Tourist” and might give a better clue to the darkly cynical tone here, than the rather generic English name. Insurance investigator Max Isaksen (Coster-Waldau) has an incurable brain tumour, and wants to kill himself. This is mostly to avoid putting his wife Lærke (Novotny) through the extended trauma of his decline and death. However, he hasn’t the courage to kill himself. In the course of his job, he finds out about the Hotel Aurora, a venue which promises to deliver your ideal end of life experience. However, one you have committed to their care, there is turning back. The Hotel California might have been a more appropriate name. 

It’s a very difficult movie to get a handle on. Occasionally it feels like an episode of Black Mirror, operating at the nexus of human emotion and opportunistic capitalism. Then it becomes more like David Cronenberg, with Max’s tumour changing the way he views the world, as his body rebels against him. Not all he experiences may be “real” – and I’ve only just realized, he shares a name with the central character in Videodrome. At others, it heads towards black comedy, perhaps influenced by Aki Kaurismaki. For example, the scene where he asks a hardware store employee for advice on knots. The helpful salesman only eventually realizes it’s for a noose, after Max is very specific regarding the weight it needs to support. 

But for every scene that sticks in your mind, there’s probably two that left me scratching my head. It feels as if Arnby wants to say something Very Important about assisted suicide, the right of the individual to self-determination, etc. I’m just not sure what that is. Maybe he’s trying simply to make the viewer think about an uncomfortable topic? If so, my main reaction was how much of a pussy Max is, to want to cash in his chips, when his symptoms were so trivial. Ending things when life is unbearable is one thing; doing so to avoid being an inconvenience feels like a major cop-out. I think I’d rather rage against the dying of the light. Perhaps with hookers and blow. 

Given the intensity of the subject matter, I think I should have felt considerably more emotional impact. There are only a couple of scenes which deliver on that, even momentarily, mostly the ones between Max and Lærke, whose relationship seems genuine and loving. Everyone else feels more like an NPC, there either to help or hinder Max’s journey towards his goal, which might, or might not, be death. Kate Ashfield – Liz from Shawn of the Dead – shows up for two minutes as a surrogate mother at the Aurora. But like too much of what we get here, her purpose is opaque. The ending takes this to new heights, and guarantees all I did when the credits rolled, was shrug my shoulders. This destination proves anything except final.