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‘The Event’ poses a difficult question

A look at whether suicide can ever be the ‘right’ choice

What does it mean to live? The suicide of a young man focuses all our attention on the important things in life — love, family, happiness and hope — in director Thom Fitzgerald’s uneven yet brave and touching film, “The Event.”

By now even mainstream America has heard of The Hemlock Society and other groups that support assisted suicide. But it’s not exactly a common topic for a movie, and the emotional impact skyrockets when a mother is burying her son — not grandparents dying in their sleep after a full life.

“The Event” dares to ask an uncomfortable question: Can suicide ever be considered the “right” choice?

Matt (Don McKellar) is a man running out of chances, an AIDS patient embarking on yet another drug cocktail regimen. Slowly, and with some horror, he realizes he is not going to beat this virus.

Deciding to embrace his fate, he throws a party — “The Event” — that will end with his death.

“I want to die while I can still wipe my own ...” he tells his friend Brian (Brent Carver), who runs an AIDS clinic in New York.

A series of deaths tied to the clinic attracts the attention of the district attorney, and police inspector Nick (Parker Posey) is sent to investigate. Her interrogations of Matt’s friends and family allow Fitzgerald to flash back to a healthy Matt and bring out everyone’s heated opinions on his life.

As Lila, Olympia Dukakis is a mother made of pure steel. Standing up to the homophobia of her brother, struggling to lift her helpless son for a sponge bath, accepting Matt’s decision even though it breaks her heart, Dukakis takes what could have been a stereotypical nurturing Jewish mother role and makes a Thanksgiving feast out of it.

“In my world, love is above the law,” she tells Nick.

Carver is nearly as compelling as a weary AIDS center director whose life is enveloped by death and decay.

A mixed bag
Fitzgerald, whose debut feature “The Hanging Garden” won nearly every award it could in Canada, wrote the script with Tim Marback and Steven Hillyer, but the noir-ish framework sits uneasily on the story.

Posey, who is supposed to be struggling with her own father’s death, comes off flat, and it’s hard to take her seriously as a crusader against assisted suicide.

“Why are you doing this? Aren’t there some terrorists to catch?” a friend of Matt’s jeers at her, for the movie is set around the Sept. 11 attacks.

Too many of the scenes had a hazy focus, and the movie’s color palette was just irritating. Most scenes with Nick are a bleak blue-gray, while those with a healthy Matt are colorful and vibrant.

Okay, we get the point.

While “The Event” builds awkwardly in the beginning, it truly comes into its own at the end.

“Count your age by your friends, not your years,” Matt tells the camera that records his party for posterity.

That flip tone ends quickly, and the gallows humor soon becomes unbearable. The fact is, death is not a subject to be taken lightly. Matt’s friends, most of whom had celebrated his choice, are shocked at the depth of their emotions. Some even try to get him to abort his quest.

“You think you know how you are going to react, but you fool yourself,” Brian says, shaking.

“The Event” sneaks up on viewers, blindsiding them with the truth: Everyone must face death. Have you thought about your own?