When my father died from complications of multiple sclerosis, I didn’t cry. In so many ways, it was a relief that my father was finally released from the prison his body had become. I’m sure that he was longing for death in those last months. Until someone discovers the fountain of youth, we all will die and we can’t always count the final release being quick, painless or peaceful. The Israeli movie “The Farewell Party” is about how a group of Israeli senior citizens at a Jerusalem retirement home who must face the problem of death and last requests with minor considerations of faith.
I say minor because religious faith isn’t the focus of this movie really. God does appear, at least in the mechanically distorted voice of Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revach). Yehezkel is a bit of an inventor and has used this skill to make a voice distorter to call his friend Zelda (Ruth Geller) and pretend to be God. He tells her that she must go on and live as best she can because there are no vacancies in heaven. His wife, Levana, tolerates his tinkering, yet when their friend Yana (Aliza Rozen) asks them to help usher her husband Max (Shmuel Wolf) into the next world both hesitate.
There is both a moral and legal issues. Eventually, Yehezkel is convinced death would be the merciful choice for Max. Yehezkel and Yana consult with the only doctor they can find at the senior home, a gay veterinarian Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar). The vet provides medical advice and Daniel’s lover, a retired police officer (Rafael Tabor), gives legal advice. Yehezkel looks at the contraptions made by the American Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the Australian Dr. Philip Nitschke, but Levana is opposed on moral grounds.
When Yehezkel makes a simple machine that allows Max to push a button and kill himself chemically, that isn’t the end of things. Others hear rumors and come to ask for Yehezkel’s help. The group is forced to help others.
Yehezkel and Levana become estranged, but because she is suffering from dementia, she’s becoming increasingly dependent upon Yehezkel. On one particular day, she is so befuddled that she shows up to the cafeteria completely nude. That eventually results in the naked party featured in the publicity photos.
Life doesn’t have to be lonely, but we each face death alone. We can only choose how we face the last great adventure and hope that although we can’t take our friends with us, we will have friends around us as the end draws near.