When you look at your aging parent or grandparent, do you wonder how you will grow old yourself? When you think about the end of life, which do you fear most: death itself, or debilitation? Burdening your family, or being alone? In What Time Is Left, filmmaker Dakin Henderson captures the emotional journey of his extended family as his two grandmothers navigate their mid-80s.
Grandma Polly is in an advanced stage of dementia. She cannot speak, walk, feed herself, or respond to visits. In the years since her decline began, her children have responded differently to her condition. “There is a quality about her that has made people love her all her life,” says Dakin’s mother, Dita, “and it’s amazing that quality is still there.” But Dita’s brother, Ned, doesn’t see much of the mother he used to love. “We’re spending so much money,” he laments, “for not a lot of quality of life.”
Dakin’s other grandmother, Grandma Deedee, is still sharp-witted and hilariously frank about her own aging. But when she declares in her Living Will that under certain incapacitating conditions she may wish to “get out of this life as quickly as possible,” Deedee finds herself in a tangle of questions and hypotheticals posed by her children. “If you’re essentially fine and fully competent and thinking about things,” says Dakin’s uncle, Bones, “and you say ‘this is my time to die…’ that sounds like suicide.”
As his parents, aunts, and uncles weigh the value and consequences of an incapacitated life, Dakin unexpectedly suffers an incident that brings him face-to-face with his own mortality. We watch as the filmmaker struggles to absorb the prospect of his own death at a young age. Mirroring scenes with Dakin’s grandmothers, we feel the gravity of what is at stake through the emotionally charged comments of those around him. Ultimately, Dakin comes to peace with the fragility of his own existence, encouraging us to appreciate the passing of time, rather than fear it.
Through unforgettable moments and characters who are both surprisingly funny and heart-wrenchingly honest, What Time Is Left reveals the web of human connections that keep a loving and supportive family together in the face of death and decline. Audiences experience the emotional transformation felt by all ages as the oldest generation passes on, and their descendants enter into a new phase of life.
What Time Is Left is about the fundamental questions in life which may never be answered, but asking them is part of what makes us human. It is a deeply moving and evocative film that takes us on an emotional roller coaster—one that many of us can anticipate in our lives.