Sunday, March 11, 2012

[DVD] Life Before Death (2012)

It cannot be more true that Death is that final life experience that everyone will eventually have to go through. But how will one face Death whether writhing in pain because of an inflicted illness, or depending on any discussion point that floats your boat, from religion to karma to just accepting and coming to terms with the condition that life decides to dish out, is something I'm sure we'd think about once in a blue moon, perhaps more so as we age. But one thing's for sure, if one can avoid pain during one's life, we'd sure want to be able to avoid pain and suffering before we bid adeau to this world, and leave peacefully and with some dignity intact.

Life Before Death may sound morbid given its title, and dealing with a subject matter that few of us would like to think about, but this documentary, written and directed by Mike Hill, is one fascinating yet a sobering stark reminder that more can be done in terms of palliative care and services. Given the modernization of our public and private health sectors here over the last 50 years, this is one area that should be given a second look at, and not only in Singapore, but for medical practitioners, politicians with their policies and even pharmaceutical companies with their shiny mission statements, in the rest of the world as well. There's nothing morbid about the film's presentation at its cold, hard look through the opinions and knowledge of its interview subjects, ranging from experts in the medical field right to the nurse and patient level, each providing their respective points of view in talking heads style, interspersed with images taken from the film's journey across 11 countries.

It deals with the issue of pain control and the global crisis of untreated pain, that pain is treatable but seldom addressed even with the means available to. Opioids, a key ingredient to combat pain, aren't always as freely available as we think they would, and should be, in helping patients obtain a better quality end of life, given their inherent double-edgedness, whether for medicinal purposes or misused and abused, with opponents more than willing to dwell on the latter instead of focusing on the positives. The documentary presents its argument through a wide spectrum of topics surrounding palliative care and the elevation, or even elimination of pain for sufferers of terminal illness, and cast its net wide for a variety of interview subjects from the housing estates in Singapore to the far reaches of Uganda in Africa, dealing with the same issue that impacts both the developed world at the forefront of medicine, and those that have to rely on very rudimentary tools of the trade, such as the travelling physician in India.

We get to see and even feel the pain that get shared through narrative anecdotes, and wonder why more couldn't be done given the state of modern medical science. If a simple deep prick in the skin can cause us irritation, imagine the level of discomfort some radiating, chronic pain that's internal can cause us, being more than an irritant but something more crippling, and this in turn affects our quality of life, spiraling it downwards, and worse, with hysteria and depression settling in. These are avoidable, but the documentary addresses the issues that prevent or serve as road blocks to the accessibility of Opioids as a treatment, for various reasons, each differing in varying parts of the world. With a contrast between those with access to pain relievers, and those who don't, the answer is crystal clear how one would like to face and deal with pain head on.

Launched by the Lien Foundation here in Singapore in early 2012, the focus of the film helps to spotlight how Opioids and Palliative Medicine can help pain sufferers to alleviate crippling pain, and allow them to function almost as per normal without their sensors going into overdrive not thanks to untreated pain. And from the testaments, one will witness how those who suffer from the most horrid of diseases, may reclaim some form of dignity and quality in their daily lives and routines. The initiative here is to advance eldercare and advocate better care of the dying, and to drive a greater public awareness about end of life issues in Singapore as our population ages. Bear witness to the issues and the solution readily available, and hopefully all of us do have a universal right to pain control. Extremely informative and thought provocative, do not pass up on Life Before Death when you have the chance!

For more details, do visit and, and the film's website here.

The Region Free Special Edition Two Disc Box Set of Life Before Death presents the film proper in anamorphic widescreen format in the first disc, with audio available in either English Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0. There are many languages included in its subtitle offering to reach out to as many people as possible - English, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, French, Chinese, Romanian, Vietnamese, Hungarian, Czech and German. Besides the main feature, there's also the 55 minutes version meant for that hour long time slot for television. Extras on Disc One include the Theatrical Trailer (3:25), Teaser 1 (2:10) and Teaser 2 (2:07), in addition to David Suchet: A Humanitarian Cause (2:15), a short clip featuring the narrator of the film to promote the cause to live well and die better, and another short clip called Adam Starr: Movie Soundtrack (2:31) which features the musician who did the score and had him talking about the film as well.

Disc Two contains a total of 35 short films being the companion content to the film, made up of interview pieces categorized into different sections, each dealing with an area covered in the film, such as Pain, Pain Crisis, Medical Education, Palliative Care, Death & Dying, End of Life, and Advocacy. Some made it into the feature, while most included provided a more holistic look at the various issues from the panel of specialists engaged for the film, making this a definite must watch.

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