“Hi, my name is Gordon, I am 39 years old and…and…I have a brain tumor.”
In storytelling this is called narrative hook, a “literary technique in the opening of a story that hooks the reader’s attention”.
In fact, this is the way the documentary “long lived my happy end”, screened at the 24th edition of the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, begins.
The documentary shows Gordon Shaw’s life, a Scottish artist and comic book creator who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in his early 30s, who decides to tell the disease through a graphic art, Bittersweet, talking about death through his own death sentence.
Watching this documentary, knowing that I will have to write about it, it triggers a series of questions in me:
How do I talk about death? Where do I start? How do I avoid being superficial, full of clichès, how do I avoid being a modern day guru?
Spoiler alert: I HAVE NO IDEA.
I have no idea but using the topics covered by the movie and trying to analyze them. For instance, the first topic I want to cover is:
ART AND DEATH
This is the real power of the documentary: showing how a disease can be told through art and how art can be used to deal with a disease. To deal with death.
History is full of artists who have dealt with this theme:
Jacques-Louis David reproduced the last moments of the life of the politician and journalist Jean-Paul Marat, in the famous painting “the death of marat”, which shows the murdered of the French revolutionary leader.
In the field of music, Elton John paid tribute to Norma Jean Mortenson, aka Marilyn Monroe, with the song candle in the wind, writing and singing
“And I would’ve liked to know you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did”
And then there is the video, which with its visual power manages to transport you to another world, as Ricky Gervais did in his last work, with the series after life, which follows the grief of the protagonist for the loss of his wife.
Telling stories to make sense of what we are experiencing is something we have inherited from our earliest ancestors: we have evolved to learn from narrative, be it through visual media, song or performance.
Art helps people express experiences that are too difficult to put into words, such as a diagnosis of cancer. Like Gordon does.
THE PAIN OF THOSE AROUND
Another theme touched upon by the documentary is about the pain of the people who assist those who are dying. The pain of those around.
In the film, a key character is made up of Gordon’s partner, Shawn, who suffers not only from the disease he observes growing in the body of the person he loves but also from the long distance that separates the two: in fact, Gordon lives in Scotland, Shawn in the USA.
Living next to a person who is facing the most delicate challenge of his life, who remains courageously clinging to life, generates a form of pain that can only be understood by those who have lived through such an experience.
Being willing to give everything to help those who are suffering, but at the same time being aware that this will not be enough, can create a sense of failure and disillusionment in life that jeopardizes the very health of those who seek to be supportive.
Despite everything, Shawn grits his teeth and faces the pain, showing his love on multiple occasions, such as when he organizes a “surprise party” for Gordon, on zoom.
The surprise party on zoom
It’s lockdown time, which means that through the camera’s lens you can clearly see houses surrounded by an intense silence.
Through the screen of his laptop, you see people singing and dancing and reacting to jokes with 2 or 3 seconds of delay because of the poor connection.
You see Gordon smiling, laughing, and enjoying.
This scene brings us to one of the most delicate and difficult points to be dealt with:
CONFRONTING YOUR OWN MORTALITY
Immediately after the zoom call ended, with the laptop on his knees and a glass of wine placed on the table a few meters away, Gordon bursts into a river of tears that reveal – to him but first of all to us who think we are watching from a distance – that these are the moments that force you to reflect on your own mortality, the moments that force you to see the happy present as a time that is slipping away too quickly, which trigger inexorable and endless reflections on death, happiness, pain, sadness, fear of not having lived long enough and not knowing who, what awaits you beyond death.
At this point in my reflection, I need to clarify something:
I feel like everything I say, everything I write loses energy in front of a real disease. I feel like typing on a laptop about other people’s diseases can be too easy.
Because yes, death is cruel, alive among us, part of this life.
You can decide not to see it, but death is here, present in a corner of our life, invisible but overbearing in influencing who we are and how we live.
Confronting our own mortality is something that we do, even unconsciously.
When we comment on an experience saying “I felt alive”, when we act like stupid arrogants destroying our bodies with toxins that we voluntarily introduce into our body in the name of a freedom that no one has deprived us of, we are responding to the fear of not being immortal.
If I can take something from this documentary, I take the courage to face death, despite all of the people who point to you as a “dark person” treating this topic.
Confronting consciously our mortality can be an example for others, can be liberating for people who live with diseases, an engine for those who need to react.
Confronting your own mortality is never an easy thing to do, but we can start by admitting it to ourselves.
1st picture: https://www.longlivemyhappyhead.com/
4rd picture: Netflix
5th picture: https://youtu.be/rR2oYXnlcQo
6th picture: https://youtu.be/rR2oYXnlcQo