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Bill Nighy stars in 'Living'

A different movie
Bill Nighy in Living
Bill Nighy in Living
Bill Nighy in Living | Lionsgate
Bill Nighy in Living | Lionsgate

Playing at until Feb. 16th, Living is a different kind of movie. Indeed, the word movie, with its Hollywood implications, is probably better replaced with film. For this is cinema as literature.

If art provides insights we might not have reached on our own, then Living falls into that category. The main character, beautifully and understatedly played by Bill Nighy (Mr. Williams), is neither hero nor anti-hero. He is remarkable in his ordinariness.

Mr. Williams is a municipal civil servant in the financially challenged Britain of the first decades after World War II.

Director Oliver Hermanus deploys boredom and a glacial pace in such a way that the futile zombie-like existence of the protagonist grips the audience.

The illusion of work as work with a purpose is shattered in the circular paper-shuffling procrastination of clerks in the London County Council offices. A new employee, an eager Mr. Wakelin (Alex Sharpe), is soon beaten down to conformity with the grey ennui that pervades the first stages of the film. It all seems interminable, and the very extent of the tedium conveys the notion that this is not life at all. Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood), the sole female employee, owns most of the vitality. Along with Wakelin, she serves by contrast to foreground, even more, the monotony of office life: this, you are gradually forced to understand, is a living death.

When Williams gets a terminal cancer diagnosis, he seeks to break out of his bureaucratic trance. The path to redemption is the return to meaning, and it comes from modest expectations and leads to outcomes of great consequence, showing what small changes can mean.

Fascinatingly, the film is adapted by Pulitzer prize-winning author and film maker Kazuo Ishiguro from a 1952 Japanese drama by famed Japanese director Akiro Kurasawa, To Live (Ikiru), . Yet the English reserve that pervades it has an authenticity central to the ambiguities that make it so interesting. The moral choices, and the impact of impending death, all are handled with nuance and a light touch that engages the viewer not to judge but to observe and be left with questions.

A little dark for young viewers, Living examines what it is to have a meaningful life, and it leaves us optimistic. It is a more than worthwhile way to spend two hours. now until Feb.16th.