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Is Anybody There?

Death and taxes are inevitable features of life.  Their unavoidability are to be accepted even if they conjure feelings of dread.  Although not about money, acknowledging our demise drives Is Anybody There? - a film celebrating life.  Putting a gleefully snappy spin on the morbid premise, the great English cast make a virtue of seizing the moment for the time their characters have left.
Living in a nursing home run by his parents, ten year old Edward (Bill Milner) is obsessed with death.  His idea of a good time is recording the final breath of its inhabitants and attempting to contact them from the ‘other side’. Into his weird existence stumbles Clarence (Michael Caine), a retired magician who has accumulated a lifetime of regret.  Suffering from dementia, in his lucid moments he becomes concerned about the boy’s strange fascination.  Teaching him tricks while proving there is more to life than death, Clarence begins to confront past actions whilst Edward learns to engage with the present.
Bravely tackling the almost taboo themes of old age and illness, Is Anybody There? is about legacies.  In Clarence we see someone keen in passing his knowledge onto Edward in the hope his spirit continues.  With Edward we discover how death changes him and of its ability to impede his social interactions.  These elements are wonderfully conveyed by Caine and Milner giving first rate renditions of damaged personalities. Also impressive are David Morrissey and Anne-Marie Duff as Edward’s parents who go through their own excursion through mid-life doldrums.
Making events shine is the great use of humour amongst its tricky subject.  In fearing the unknown our ability to laugh at death is a common trait other movies have highlighted.  Importantly the elderly folk are treated with compassion in spite of the few eccentrics among them.  Even with these, their burden of long memories and ageing bodies become moving as they attempt to make the most of what they have.  Fittingly a dedication is made to one of the actors who sadly died before its release - a wistful reminder of the talented mark left behind due to their passing.
One of the best points of Is Anybody There? is Caine’s eagerness in further developing his talents.  Thankfully not giving into the temptation to slide into retirement, his seeming defiance against ageism is one skilfully matching the film’s subject.
Rating out of 10:  9 

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