“Time of my Life”
Legalizing Euthanasia in Belgium
“Time of My Life” is based on the true story of Mario Verstraete and the struggle to legalize euthanasia in Belgium. Mario was beginning a promising political career when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Multiple Sclerosis. The film is narrated by his doctor friend, Thomas and it focuses on how Mario and his friends deal with it all and make peace with both the philosophical and human sides of euthanasia.
Verstraete, the young Belgian politician who was vehemently pleading for a law on euthanasia, until he was himself diagnosed with a very aggressive kind of Multiple Sclerosis. His best friend Thomas, a doctor faces a dilemma of whether or not to help his friend die with respect. We go back to the 1980’s and we see Mario and Thomas as good friends along with Lynn and Speck. We see Mario get married and become a father, divorces and gets ill soon after and has to give up his career in politics. He begins a battle to legalize euthanasia and as he becomes sicker, the struggle becomes more personal and it seems as if Belgium is going to become the second country to have legalized euthanasia. Thomas finds himself in a difficult position—he loves his friend and he is loyal to him but he promised his parents that he would try to get Mario to change his mind.
Having just been through an election in Massachusetts where euthanasia was on the ballot, I learned a great deal about it from both sides and still have yet to make a decision. We see here what happens in a country where people who suffer can decide on whether to live or to die. What we have to consider are the people who remain alive—the fathers and mothers, children, partners and friends. How do they deal with a young man who tells them that it is the quality of life that matters and the quantity is unimportant. Here is the story of two friends who must make decisions that not only affect their friendship but the rest of Belgium. Thomas and Mario had once shared everything and then became a doctor and the other got very ill. Mario wants to end his life with dignity before it becomes burdensome and hard to live and his friend, Thomas, has to cope with this dilemma. Mario had campaigned for the law before he got sick and the irony is that he was the first to put the law into practice. This is such a sensitive issue that I have problems thinking about what goes though one’s mind as he prepares to die and what do those who love him think?
You would think that a film on this topic would be serious and heavy but it is not. The dialogue is sharp and witty and there is a good deal of black humor. And there are some very hard moments in the film as well. The film when Mario and his doctors set the date for his death is hard to watch. Thomas has a hard time dealing with the matter-of-fact way that Mario writes the date down in his diary. Then there is the scene when friends come to say goodbye. It is heartbreaking yet we need to see it. There is a lot of emotion but no sentimentality. Director Nic Balthazar sees to that.
The film is really about human existence and it touches everything that is human. Mario’s friends try to convince him that life is worth living no matter what condition someone may be in but Mario is determined. He wants to die when he decides that the quality of life is no longer adequate.
One is not likely to forget how this movie ends—the ending is touching and it impacts the viewer like few movies can. I found myself looking at my own life and the things that are important to me and I did so as tears rolled from my eyes. The film is not about death, it is about living.