The weight of death

In the first act of "Walk-In," a film written and directed by Ashland resident Scott Blum, adapted from his book "Summer's Path," Don Newport (Danforth Comins) confronts a stark and unforgiving existential crisis: he is terminally ill with pancreatic cancer. It is a harrowing reality, one that he must, ultimately, face alone, no matter the loving presence and support of his wife, Suzanne (Miriam Laube).

Death, of course, is embedded in the human condition; it is part of life's continuum, and yet it remains, for most of us, an abstraction — something that resides behind a scrim of denial and the revetments of a culture devoted to the pursuit of youth. It is all but impossible to imagine how difficult it must be to face a declarative diagnosis, absent any ambiguity, that the life that has always been will no longer be. It surely is more than one person can bear.

And yet people do. The courage required is incomprehensible.

Blum captures in tone, dialogue and soundtrack the bleakness of Don Newport's days. He feels betrayed by his body and by genetics, by the arbitrary and penetrating unfairness of it all. In one moving set piece, Don stands at a small table in the living room of his home, examining photos, mementos and found objects from a life shared with Suzanne, and he weeps for what he is about to lose, understanding that he will, with a harsh finality, say goodbye to all of this — a kaleidoscope of days yet to be lived, of moments yet to be experienced, of first things, all of it ending, no matter the bargain struck, no matter the jaw-clenching effort to will it otherwise.

And, of course, most painfully, there is Suzanne.

His reaction, so deeply human, edged with a sad desperation, is to search for some form of surcease (suicide?) or ultimate explanations, any escape from a truth that is bearing down on him, a weight that literally takes his breath away.

In sleep, Don slips into a dream of alternative outcomes. He finds a refuge, created from denial or delusion or the seductive belief in the existence of infinite possibilities.

It's at this point that the film requires if not a suspension of disbelief at least an enduring understanding.

The narrative, also told from Suzanne's point of view, begs the question as to whether Don drops off a cliff into mental illness, his cancer metastasizing or whether there is more under the heavens than we can ever possibly understand. This is the question posed to the audience in the final act of "Walk-In," to include its ambiguous and strangely hopeful denouement.

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