Dying at Grace

BDir. Allan King

Body bags and toe tags. Catheters and bowel movements.

Allan King’s ghostly camera work in “Dying at Grace” centers on the disturbing minutiae of death.

Filmed at the Salvation Army’s Toronto Grace Hospital, “Dying at Grace” follows five terminal patients’ last weeks of life as they struggle to cope with their imminent death.

Certain patients, such as the resilient and snappy atheist Joyce Bone, refuse to let their diseases render them inactive.

Bone avoids the nurses’ help getting dressed, fearing humiliation. She refuses tranquilizers in the face of pain.

King favors cool and detached camera work, rejecting a focus on subject matter that would lament and sentimentalize the raw nature of death.

Instead, he provides open shots of the patients. Bone broods in her wheelchair, discusses her lack of faith with staff members and cracks deadpan jokes.

But as the patients’ conditions deteriorate, King cuddles these lively open shots with bedside shots of them drugged-up and nearly catatonic. The final close-ups of their corpses, moments after they have perished, slack-jawed and lifeless, are some of the most sobering images.

King doesn’t make the subject matter of dying any easier to view. For that reason alone, “Dying at Grace” makes a weighty piece. The film focuses on the parts of our lives that are easily ignored until we find ourselves, or our loved ones, immediately at risk.