Max has the sort of glasses and moustache that makes you think that he only got a job in insurance because accountancy would mean living just too close to the edge. Apparently he‘s played by someone who‘s Big in Game of Thrones, so maybe his tweedy demeanour is something that‘s been put on for this film.
Max is in a loving relationship, though he’s unsure whether his wife loves him as much as he loves her. He also has a growing tumour. Cue a series of deadpan scenes where Max tries to organise his own suicide – for instance, asking the assistant at the DIY store which knot is best for a noose to hold 92kg. Each time, he pulls back at the last minute as the phone rings or someone knocks on the door.
Through his work, he encounters a woman whose husband has disappeared. She believes he’s dead, and would like to confirm this to gain closure – and the payment of his insurance policy would help. Following up her case brings Max to the Twin-Peaksy Hotel Aurora, located somewhere in the misty mountains, which is somewhere you can go for assisted suicides.
Registering at the Aurora, Max learns that he can check out any time he likes, but he can never leave. Once you sign a contract, you cannot renege, and you just count down your final days on Earth. The scenes in and around the hotel are filmed in a sort of half light to make you feel that we are already not quite in this world.
Residents of the Aurora are dressed in pyjamas and night dresses, and they share sumptuous meals and hot tubs with various employees and other guests, which seem to make life worth living. This provides them with a bit of an existential dilemma given why they are there and what they have signed.
The film is at its weakest when it tries to make any sense. If you watch it to gain a better understanding of assisted suicide, you’re probably looking in the wrong place. Far better to wallow in the cultish atmosphere, and worry, with Max, what is this place and how did we get here? If you start to try to make any sense of it all, you break the eerie sense of awe and mystery.
Suicide Tourist shares quite a lot of filmic DNA with The Lobster, although it lacks some of Yorgos Lanthimos’s mischievous wit. Both films show an essentially dull man out of his depth in a scenario that doesn’t make any sense at all. And if you don’t find that inherently entertaining, then you’re unlikely to get why anyone would spend their time watching this sort of stuff.
It doesn’t always work. Sometimes, all we see a dull man bumbling along, which is no fun at all. At others, the film makers offer us slivers of plot, which encourage us to believe that if we think hard enough, it would all start to make sense. This is not a road that we should consider travelling down.
Best just to wallow in the incoherent madness. The film is elegantly shot, but has an otherworldly air which always slightly alienates us. At the end, I was really unsure whether I found it inspired, or had just wasted an hour and a half of my time. Either way, much rather this than spending the best part of a day watching a shriekingly loud fighty-fighty parade of oversized toys.
Here’s an idea, though. If you, like Max, are at the fag end of a relationship, organise a date night with your soon-to-be-ex partner and watch them viscerally hate this film from beginning to end. It will only make you love it even more.