“Death takes everything eventually. It’s the meanest, dumbest machine there is. It keeps coming and it doesn’t care.” –Lake Mungo
Memento Mori is about death, but it is also a documentary about keeping death at bay through organ transplants.
This locally made documentary from Gemini winning writer/director Niobe Thompson is an unflinching look into this world. A well paced and evocative journey, telling the story of organ donators, organ recipients, and those still on the waiting list.
The film evokes great sympathy, and inspires self-reflection. The viewer is left feeling like some floating soul watching as families are torn apart and others are put back together. It is a form of visual narrative that is sustained skillfully throughout the entirety of the film.
Further intimacy is reached as back stories of those involved are offered in their own words. The film does very little telling and a lot of showing in this regard.
The cinematography never feels intrusive. It keeps the viewer in the conversation while still offering visually interesting scenes. Transitionally— and this is the hallmark of thoughtful shooting—there isn’t a shift in theme. The shots tastefully continue through hope and sadness without a heavy hand. There is a subtlety to the camera work, engaging the audience without jarring them.
In one emotionally wrought scene, a family says goodbye to a young man about to be taken off life support. Then, the scene changes and is contrasted with the operating room of awaiting surgeons. There is an overarching seriousness at this point, a feeling of sombre duty that has been there for the whole film.
While the son is taken off life support and being wheeled to the operating room, his mother follows him to say goodbye. As his bed is wheeled into an elevator and the doors shut, his mother yells goodbye and that she loves him. The doctors’ faces reveal emotional turmoil, but they are steadfast in the reality of their roles.
Momento Mori invites us to look into a world that we never want to see.