Last Cab To Darwin (M)
Directed by Jeremy Sims
Starring Michael Caton, Jacki Weaver

by Ben McEachen


When is a euthanasia movie not a euthanasia movie? When it’s Last Cab to Darwin, a meandering drama about a cabbie with cancer who drives from Broken Hill to Darwin because he wants to end his life.

Based on the real 3000-kilometre journey made by cabbie and cancer-sufferer Max Bell during the 1990s, Last Cab to Darwin prominently features the controversial issue of legalised euthanasia.

But this isn’t a euthanasia movie. This is a movie about whether or not it’s ever too late to work out how to live.

Director Jeremy Sims worked closely with playwright Reg Cribb to bring his 2003 play about Max to the silver screen. Presenting a hot-button issue via one man's personal journey, Cribb's play was well received, reviewed and awarded. The Sydney Morning Herald described it as ‘a big-hearted, sprawling, dry-humoured, unwieldy saga”.

Seventy-one-year-old The Castle legend Michael Caton stars as an ageing cabbie called Rex. Refusing any treatment for advanced stomach cancer, Rex embarks for Darwin as soon as hears about Dr Farmer (Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver) lobbying for legalised euthanasia.

Few details emerge about terse loner Rex. He’s been self-reliant for yonks. Yeah, he's pretty selfish, but he's also a tough survivor. Rex's spurning of feisty neighbour Polly (Ningali Lawford) sums up his stubborn inability to recognise that anyone cares for him.

But on his “liberating and terrifying” journey to Darwin, we see Rex coming out of his shell. This is mainly due to unexpected friendships with an extroverted young Aboriginal man, Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), and Julie (Emma Hamilton), an English backpacker.

What the film does best is guide us towards an insightful end point. An unexpected conclusion reveals that close connections between family and friends is what Last Cab To Darwin has been heading towards.

Rex finally acknowledges something obvious: he’s not alone. Notably, this brings into focus how the debate about assisted death isn't just about the right to choose. Rex realises the important issue of not seeing your life as yours alone. Despite Rex's age and death wish, Last Cab To Darwin gradually reveals that as long as you can breathe and think, it's not too late to work at living.

Rex does a good job of trying to deny there is a communal aspect to humanity. But it's an inescapable fact. Someone who knew that was Jesus. He proclaimed a way of navigating the sea of selves that we all are in. He calls us to consider the good of others; placing their needs ahead of our own. ‘Treat others as you want to be treated,’ he says (Luke chapter 6, verse 31).

Jesus also is responsible for another popular expression: ‘love your neighbour as yourself’, (Mark chapter 12, verse 31). While plenty of people reject Jesus’ call to devote their own lives to him, most of us support the community of care and concern he stands for. Looking out for others and valuing their needs as we would ourselves.

But it is difficult to think beyond ourselves when a person we love is dying. Naturally, we want them to continue fighting—continue their lives with us. The problem here is that asking someone who’s dying a slow, painful death to soldier on, can so easily become manipulative and cruel. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Instead, no matter where we are at on the road to death, Rex's journey reminds us to consider how best we can live. Today, and every day. By following the advice and example of Jesus, we can immediately begin to live out the communal, selfless life he invites us to lead. And then we each can work on how our behaviour and action affects others. Whether we are the dying person or the person caring for them – or whatever the situation might be - living with others in mind proves the optimal way for us all to live together.

Rex only discovers the benefits of being connected with others due to death beating down his door. But why wait that long?

This article was first published in War Cry magazine. See it here.