Dick Johnson Is Dead by Kirsten Johnson [6/10]

An oddball documentary by documentary maker Kirsten Johnson, “Dick Johnson Is Dead” chronicles the final days of her avuncular father. Dick, seemingly graced with a never-ending childlike smile, is already suffering from dementia (which, poignantly, his wife expired from) when the movie kicks off, and over the course of the film he relocates from Seattle to New York. Perhaps as an act of grace toward his beloved daughter, Dick acquiesces to participating in an outlandish set of mortal what-if scenes: what if he tripped down stairs, what if an air conditioner fell from on high onto him, etc., etc. Is this series of scripted, performed scenes meant to prepare the father for death? Or the daughter? Kirsten Johnson reveals little, even as she escalates the imaginary events into post-death scenes in heaven. All of this makes for a vaudevillian smorgasbord interspersed with footage of the father declining, and the juxtaposition can seem a little unfocused. But the inevitable climax is truly moving, and as centered in reality as the rest of the movie is in flights of fancy. Overall, Dick Johnson Is Dead is not for everyone, but for the questing, cerebral moviegoer, it might prove to be a viewing highlight.

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