A "euthanasia parable" that affirms life

By Dave Andrusko 

Michael Caton (pictured) plays Rex McRae in "Last Cab to Darwin"

I believe it's fair to say that if anything qualifies for the "you can't make this stuff up," it comes from the mouth of Philip Nitschke, aptly and correctly known as Australia's Jack Kevorkian, aka "Dr. Death."

Here's the setting.

Nitschke is criticizing a new movie that just came out titled "Last Cab to Darwin." Last week we talked about the film, based on the true story of Max Bell, a cab driver, but there is much more known about the movie now.

You'll recall that Mr. Bell ("Rex McRae," played by Michael Caton in the movie) is told he has terminal cancer. After hearing that there is a doctor in Darwin who can "assist" him to die, he heads from his home in Broken Hill to Darwin, nearly two thousand miles away.

The film is one of those classic road movies where the real story is not the destination but the journey.

Nitschke is miffed, according to the Sydney Morning Herald's Garry Maddox. "The harm is that in re-telling the story as a comedy road movie the true significance of Max in the global struggle for end of life choice has been lost," Nitschke said in a phone interview.

(Actually, he's likely upset for far different reasons which we'll get to in a second.)

Humor when talking about death? This comes from Nitschke? Maddox reminds his readers Nitschke has a show of his own,

a comedy called Dicing With Dr Death, will invite audience members on stage to inhale gas from an updated version of the Deliverance machine that helped end the lives of four terminally ill people in the 1990s. He wants the audience to reflect on what he hopes will be a time when they can make a similar life-ending choice.

Ixnay to humor in movie about reconsidering a decision for death but it's hilarious to mimic death by having participants inhale 100% nitrogen rather than a lethal mixture of nine per cent carbon monoxide and 91 per cent nitrogen. What a joke because (haha) everybody knows no one is going to die onstage!

What a howl, what a scream. No doubt anyone would come to one of his "shows" would be rolling in the aisles as the mask is slipped over the "patient's" face.

But we can be 100% certain that isn't Nitschke's primary grievance. For a variety of reasons Bell was never "assisted" to die under the Northern Territory's Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. So Nitschke's irritated about that.

Worse yet, Eureka Street's Tim Kroenert calls the film "A euthanasia parable in the outback." Director Jeremy Sims and Playwright Reg Cribb, he writes, "reimagine the story as a life-affirming parable about a man learning late in life what really matters."

You can just sense Nitschke seething: That is NOT what Bell's life is supposed to be about. In this context a road picture should end with the sign that says (figuratively and literally) "Last Exit."

To the Nitschkes of this world, death is life and nothing more "honors our humanity" than "choosing" the time of our demise.

But that's not what "Last Cab to Darwin" teaches us, although reading other interviews, it's clear that many of the key participants are very open to assisted suicide.

Like all road movies, Kroenert writes,

Last Cab is as much about the journey as the destination. Steve Arnold's cinematography imbues the scrubby, sublime landscapes with a contemplative power that heightens the sense that Rex is searching for himself as much as for a solution. The expansive backdrop literally and figuratively expands his perspective, as do the people that he meets along the way.

And it is through the drifters he picks up along the way that Rex finds new depths and unexpected places in himself, a simple man who heretofore had never left his home in Australia's outback.

Finally, adding to his displeasure, Nitschke probably heard or read how his counterpart in the film (Dr. Farmer) comes off. Suffice it to say, not well.

I can't wait to see "Last Cab to Darwin."