- The decade conspiracy theories overtook the truth 4 Months Ago
- Marianne Williamson duped into believing Trump pardoned Charles Manson 4 Months Ago
- TikTok users are freaking out about ‘predicting’ Juice WRLD’s death Today 7:59 AM
- @MugJerry and the quest for Instagram justice Today 7:00 AM
- Angela Abar wrestles with destiny in ‘Watchmen’ episode 8 Sunday 9:05 PM
- Guy who runs Trump Organization Twitter account caught hyping up own tweet Sunday 4:51 PM
- People found out how tall Olaf is–and now ‘Frozen’ is terrifying Sunday 3:41 PM
- Rapper Juice WRLD dead at 21 Sunday 3:02 PM
- Embody Andrew Yang, fight other presidential candidates in video game Sunday 2:33 PM
- Ariana Grande spoke with TikTok teen who looks exactly like her Sunday 1:00 PM
- Beyoncé accused of paying dancers ‘low rates’ Sunday 11:58 AM
- Timmy Thick blasted for saying the N-word in comeback video Sunday 9:11 AM
- Netflix’s ‘The Confession Killer’ is a devastating and well-built portrait of a con artist Sunday 8:00 AM
- Swipe This! I’m ashamed to tell anyone about my online shopping habit Sunday 6:00 AM
- UPS facing backlash for thanking police after employee killed in shootout Saturday 5:02 PM
HBO feature documentary Alternate Endings: Six New Ways to Die in America, peers behind the curtain and delves into one of humankind’s great (if least-attended) existential questions: Who gets to determine when and how one dies? The heartfelt film takes an affecting look at the unique ways people are delivering and acting out their last rites.
DIRECTORS: Matthew O’Neil, Perri Peltz
The touching documentary explores one of humankind’s greatest questions: Who gets to determine when and how one dies?
A funeral convention opens the hour-long film, highlighting the disruption occurring in the business of death. One presenter notes that the plethora of options, including customizations and tech alternatives, are putting a formerly stable institution in jeopardy.
Directors and producers Matthew O’Neil and Perri Peltz (who also produced HBO’s Axios) visit six families across the country, almost all of which have a baby boomer member with a terminal illness. Each participant has decided on an unorthodox way to honor their relationship with the end. These options range from celebrations of life, “living” wakes, green burials, the controversial medical aid in dying, and space burials—shooting the dead’s ashes into space via rocket. O’Neil and Peltz are careful to not insert themselves; they don’t employ narration and provide minimal information on the subjects.
Possibly the most affecting vignette belongs to Dick Shannon, a former Silicon Valley engineer with terminal lung cancer. Shannon, who is adamant about maintaining agency in his passing, utilizes California’s “death with dignity” law, which allows terminally ill patients to request medicine to hasten their death.
“My observation about the way people die, at least in America, is they… are not allowed the opportunity to be part of the process,” Shannon says. Most of the documentary participants echo this sentiment. “The part that bothers me just immensely is not being allowed to be part of that process. It’s my death. Go with what you believe, but don’t tell me what I have to do.”
Shannon does not second-guess himself. He mixes his medication in a nondescript steel cup and promptly swallows the formula. With his wife by his side, he tells his family, “Just know that I love you—each and every one of you.”
Alternate Endings: Six New Ways to Die in America serves as an ongoing study in both loss and the warmth of humanity. Here, death becomes a graceful performance that is purposefully artful—a unique canvas of emotions and experiences for those dying and those left to remember. The film is more of a gallery than a straightforward documentary looking for deeper meaning. Alternate Endings doesn’t push the viewer down particular philosophical alleys. Each story, each life, yields its own lessons.
Kahron Spearman is a music and film critic whose work can also regularly be regularly found in the Austin Chronicle.