There is something to be said for moody films which contemplate what it means to be alive and what it means to die on one’s own terms. Nicolaj Coster-Waldau’s latest, “Exit Plan,” is just that – a movie that examines one man’s life as he contemplates ending it all.
The basic conceit of “Exit Plan,” which is directed by Jonas Alexander Arnby, is that our lead character, Max (Coster-Waldau) has an inoperable tumor in his brain. At the outset of the film, it appears as though Max’s doctor had recommended that Max take some time off of work and relax, to see if that helped. Not surprisingly, the brain tumor didn’t go away on its own, it’s gotten larger – the strategy of doing nothing save keeping track of how he feels via an app hasn’t been successful.
We only learn all this after we’ve seen a portion of a video where Max explains that he’s going to end his life, and herein lies one of the problems with the movie.
We are dealing with a character who, quite clearly, may be perceiving reality in different fashion than what could be considered “normal.” It’s not his fault that this is the case – he has a brain tumor. Arnby makes the conscious decision, however, to deliver the tale complete with flashbacks. These two things leave the audience constantly wondering whether something we’ve seen is/has actually taking/taken place or simply Max’s delusion.
Max spends much of “Exit Plan” at a place called the Aurora Hotel. This is a facility which assists with suicide. It is depicted as spa-like – there are classes and saunas and hot tubs and dancing and food and it all ends in death. The Aurora also has actors who help people live out their ideal death scenarios. For whatever reason, these actors are allowed to mingle with people at the dances and is only slightly less weird than the hotel drugging guests using opium tea without telling them.
Or, maybe there’s no hotel at all and it just a part of a delusion brought on by a brain tumor. Some of the stuff at the hotel seems impossible certainly. The viewer simply doesn’t know what is true. Problematically, It isn’t clear that the movie does either.
Although Max is obviously (and make no mistake, understandably) upset at the notion of dying, nearly everything around Max in “Exit Plan” is dealt with in a flat, matter of fact, sort of fashion. Colors are muted. Actions are subdued. There are momentary signs of life from other guests at the Aurora, but perhaps those are just aspects of Max’s personality.
It is a stylistic choice, but not one that enhances the film. Rather than the audience becoming more engrossed in what is taking place, there is a monotony to the endeavor that causes those watching to not simply remain at a distance, but rather to actively pull away.
Is the movie looking at Max learning about the Aurora because he’s an insurance detective and a case brings him there (as the film’s synopsis states), or is it about Max doing his best to end his life without going through the horrors that await, or is it actually Max living out those horrors? “Exit Plan” may offer a few clues here and there but never manages to convince the viewer that it has any answers itself.
There are real, serious, ideas at the core of the idea in “Exit Plan,” but the movie avoids dealing with them. It instead offers up little twisty bits here and there, jumping from one place to another, altering our ideas of the hotel, and never doing so with the sense that it is building to an argument, only that it is being obtuse for the sake of being obtuse. Even the opening video we get of Max saying he’s going to die is shown in different fashion later in the film.
Coster-Waldau, Tuva Novotny, and the rest of the cast are almost as lost as the true narrative and like Max, it’s not really their fault. They are buried under the crushing weight of the emptiness of it all, at its mercy like Max is at the mercy of his tumor.
The physical space of the Aurora Hotel may be spectacularly beautiful, but it shouldn’t be the most memorable portion of a film about what it means to be at the end of one’s life. With “Exit Plan,” however, it is exactly that.
photo credit: screen media films