Existential Themes in the film My Life Without Me

The basic plot of the movie – that set on the last days of a dying young woman – hints at being a tear-jerking melodrama.  But contrary to this threat My Life Without Me delivers a surprisingly novel representation of a life about to end.  The announcement of death, instead of limiting the physical and mental possibilities of the young woman Ann, actually liberates her to explore them to the fullest.  The film is rich in its philosophical content, particularly themes central to Existentialism.  This essay will showcase how through the strength of her character and a preference for rationality over sentimentality Ann represents a true existential hero.

Hardly 23 years of age, Ann lives an arduous yet contented life. She lives with her young family in a caravan put out in the backyard of her mother’s house.  Although the relationship with her mother is somewhat troubled, she has a loving husband and two adorable girls.  Her father is largely absent from her life, struggling as he is with his habitual petty crimes. So though life is not hunky-dory, it hums along with some equilibrium.  She works full time to support her family as her husband’s employment and income are never steady. Disrupting this semblance of balance is the drastic news of an ovarian cancer which has advanced to a terminal stage. But instead of being beaten down by the shock of the bad news and the anguish it entails, Ann musters inner strength and quietly reaches a determination to make the most of her remaining days.  She contemplates deeply and makes a list of ‘10 Things To Do’ before she dies.  She must tell her two little girls how dearly she loves them and in a touching scene she records a series of messages for their upcoming birthdays.  She also vows to find a new wife for her husband, whom the girls will also like. Ann’s ability to be able to complete certain essential duties even in the face of approaching death makes her an existential hero.

Existentialism as a philosophical system is not very well defined and nor is the system currently in vogue. Existentialism loosely concerns with the purpose, nature and possibilities for human existence.  It arose in the aftermath of the Second World War, as a reaction to the widespread death and destruction that the event accounted for.  In this regard, it is fair to claim that death is as important a preoccupation in existentialism as is life and life-affirming actions. Or rather, it is about the inevitability of death and the possibilities such a terminal reality opens up.  This is exactly the situation faced by Ann.  Her impending death makes her think hard about what it is to live.  She then makes it a goal to experience all the bounties of life during the dying of the light. Herein Ann takes ‘responsibility’ for her life and actions.  A less resolute soul might have descended into self-sympathy and melancholy.  But not Ann – a true existential hero, she doesn’t see the point in complaining about her situation. Instead she proactively and constructively engages with it.

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