A Long Way Down
Before you read any further, I guess it’s in everyone’s best interest that I offer a CONTENT WARNING. I’m about to talk about suicide a little bit. If that bothers you, feel free to come back another time.
It would be crazy to try and recap everything that’s been going on with me since the last time I posted here, so instead, I’m just gonna talk about my interaction with this movie I saw last night. The movie’s called A Long Way Down. It came out in 2014 and stars Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul, and Imogen Poots. Here’s Google’s take on its logline: “Four strangers who planned to jump off the same roof on New Year's Eve join together as a kind of family and give themselves six weeks to find valid reasons to live.”
It's a dark comedy, which is a kind of comedy that I like…but my little sister committed suicide just before the pandemic, in the fall of 2019. The movie didn’t hit me like that at first, probably because it opens from Pierce Brosnan’s perspective and because jumping off of a building isn’t the same as swallowing a bottle of pills. Honestly, the word “TYLENOL” is more triggering for me than this movie was, at least at first.
But at the end of the movie, someone talks about the thoughts of someone who survived trying to jump off of the Golden Gate Bridge. As they fell, they thought, “The only thing in my life that I can’t change is this decision.” THAT hit me like a bus. Everything I’ve heard about my sister’s interactions with my mom after she took the pills tells me that she probably took them in a spasm of hopelessness and despair…a spasm that later passed. I don’t think my sister wanted to die, not really. I just think that she was under extreme emotional duress. I think she was in an emotional bear trap and she chewed her metaphorical leg off to get out.
The biggest compliments I’ve ever received about my writing were emotional reactions. This part of a story made that friend cry; that heroic character made being smart seem so cool that a reader became a better student. These kinds of reactions are few and far between for me, at least as far as I know. A Long Way Down didn’t make me cry -- but it put me in that place, it made me feel as if I understood for a brief moment what my sister must have been feeling, the acidic fear and bitter regret when she remembered that she wanted to live. It HURT to think of…and I as I sat with that feeling, the hurt turned into a sort of relief. She was probably terrified, but I believe that she wanted to live.
In the short term, that’s an awful realization, but in the larger scheme of things, I find it a little comforting that I no longer think that she wanted to die, but that she had a brief and terrible mental break…what Law & Order would call temporary insanity. Temporary insanity is better than thinking that she lived in unrelenting despair. It makes the whole thing feel more like a terrible, tragic accident than suicide.
I’m not fooling myself into thinking my sister didn’t commit suicide -- I’m just looking at it differently. A Long Way Down gave me that. I’m not necessarily calling it a great movie, it was more a solid film elevated by a great cast, but for one shining moment, it was transformative for me.
That’s the power of great writing.