Mr. Williams, played by Bill Nighy, is a brooding, austere bureaucrat reduced by countless days of quotidian office work, hollowed by midcentury, postwar London. He moves with a gentle melancholy that’s undoubtedly signaling an inner pain bubbling slightly beneath the surface. The lonely widower lives quietly with his son and his son’s wife, played by Barney Fishwick and Patsy Ferran, respectively. The film is solemn, moving steadily until Mr. Williams leaves work uncharacteristically for a doctor’s appointment—and, to disrupt his cyclical life, is given only months to live. Confronted by the end of his life, Mr. Williams grapples with his legacy, the potential of redemption, and a revived vigor to live with purpose for the time that remains. He finds inspiration in young, hopeful Margaret, an employee who nicknamed him Mr. Zombie, played wonderfully by Aimee Lou Wood.
Mr. Williams abandons his office, embarking on a brief (but undignified) quest for debauchery with a disreputable writer, played by Tom Burke. However, Mr. Williams is infatuated platonically with Margaret, who quits her office job to experience something new. Mr. Williams pivots from existential debauchery to a small but impactful purpose: ensuring the construction of a playground abandoned to static bureaucracy. In this, Living rejects the futile and instead proposes that there is meaning to being alive hidden in small things.
Living is the remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film, Ikiru, but director Oliver Hermanus and novelist Kazuo Ishiguro managed to gracefully reimagine this sentimental film. Despite falling short of the poignancy and subtlety of Ikiru, Living delivers a beautiful glance at an attempt to live—even when life is terminal. Retold in London instead of Tokyo, Hermanus and Ishiguro parallel Ikiru, envisioning a story playing out side by side, positioned halfway across the world. Without Nighy’s refined performance as Mr. Williams, Living’s lasting impact would be fleeting, but his embodiment of revival, despite incurable limitations, gives this film an unlikely opening to redemption. PG-13, 102 min.