“Today, Parliament passed the so-called “Plan 75” law, which grants citizens aged 75 and over the right to euthanasia, in order to combat the aging of the population. »
Here are the words that open Map 75, Japanese film directed by Chie Hayakawa and awarded a special mention of the Caméra d’or at the last Cannes Film Festival. By setting up her dystopia in the near future, and in a world that could be mistaken for ours, the director questions the possible excesses of a society which, by confusing freedom and liberalism, transforms its elderly people into commodities like others.
Indeed, if the elderly are granted the right to euthanasia, and the process is presented until the end of the film as a personal choice, where the participant is conscious and voluntary (moreover, it is specified several times that “in the event that [il changerait] of opinion, [il peut] give up at any time”), these are the very conditions of this choice that Chie Hayakawa questions.
Fifty years earlier, another film, also a dystopian anticipation film, questioned the relationship between capitalism and active euthanasia of the elderly or vulnerable. Green Sun (Soylent Green in English), an American film released in 1973, imagines an overpopulated New York of 2022, where the population – masked – is ravaged by epidemics, suffers from global warming and, as a direct consequence of disruption, food shortages. In this desolate world on the verge of implosion where the poor are crowded by the hundreds in the streets and in the churches, certain buildings are preserved from the heat and the insalubrity.
This is the case of the buildings where the executives and managers of Soylent, the most powerful company in the city, are housed, which sells to the starving population – while organizing rationing – high-protein portions that allow them to survive. The other preserved and immaculate building is the euthanasia center. In this film too, citizens, mostly elderly citizens, voluntarily go to the center; here too, the notion of choice, given the living conditions of the people concerned, is seriously called into question.
A recurring theme
Films on euthanasia have existed practically since the beginnings of cinema (the first film on the subject, Oslerizing Daddy, dates from 1905 ; they support and contribute to informing debates on euthanasia which periodically reappear in the public space. The last two decades have seen a proliferation of films on the subject, many of which, almost always in favor of the right to die, have had a strong impact and have won prestigious awards: this is the case, among others, of Barbarian Invasions (2003), from Million Dollar Baby (2004), by Mar Adentro (2004), awarded at the Oscars, or more recently, Love (2012), Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
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By placing these images and these end-of-life stories at the center of the public space, these films make it possible to ask a certain number of ethical and social questions, and, through their success, contribute to informing public opinion; It is therefore not insignificant to note that this multiplication of films on euthanasia corresponds to intense legislative activity on the question, in particular at European level (Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, etc.) but also to the opening of debates in France.
Euthanasia and capitalism
In this growing list of films that deal with euthanasia, Green Sun and Map 75 occupy a very special place. Taking the opposite view of the overwhelming majority of films on the question, which defend the right to die, they offer a radical critique of euthanasia, when it is caught in the nets of unbridled capitalism. This translates into differences both in terms of the script, and in the way of filming. Thus, the main characters of Green Sun and of Map 75 are neither sick nor disabled; physically they are in no pain, and seem quite capable of continuing to live.
The only thing they have in common is that they are considered, in the society in which they live, as overly old and unproductive people. In Green Sun, Sol Roth, a former university professor turned police analyst, is presented as a guardian of knowledge; several times it is suggested that he is no longer as efficient and quick in his research as before, and the chief of police threatens to force him into retirement.
In Map 75, the main character, Michi, is 78 years old; at the beginning of the film, she still works in a hospital, but she is forced to retire when her best friend, another “senior”, becomes unwell at their workplace. Michi then embarks on a frantic and desperate job search and a struggle against the absurdity of the system that recalls the routes of certain Ken Loach characters; Forced to work in increasingly precarious but also increasingly harsh jobs, she ends up on social assistance and then in the soup kitchen, all her interlocutors telling her with more or less brutality that she is now too many.
In both films, a large place is given, in the script but also in the visual signs on the screen, to the company which organizes the active euthanasia of citizens. The logo and name of Soylent are everywhere, while advertisements and flyers for Map 75 flood the places where the most vulnerable congregate (retirement homes, doctor’s waiting rooms, soup kitchens, etc.). The elements are thus laid down that will allow each of the films to question the links between old age, euthanasia and capitalism.
In a January 2012 article titled “Economic Euthanasia,” the German philosopher Robert Kurz asserts that, in a capitalist system where money has become an end in itself, “real goods are produced only when they serve this end in itself which is the increase of money”. Everything that would respond to a social demand but which would not generate money is gradually being abandoned; this is the case in particular of care for the elderly, materially and technically possible, but, in a capitalist system that fetishizes money, considered “unfinanceable”. It remains for the elderly, so as not to “cost” anything to society, or else to work until exhaustion (Michi’s best friend, in Map 75), or to die of their own free will (Sol and Michi).
Several elements in the two films under study seem to point in this direction. The two films build metaphors that make it possible to make concrete the theory of the commodification of the old body. In Green Sun, Sol ends up discovering with horror that it is the euthanized bodies that provide the raw material for the high-protein portions sold to the population. In Map 75, a young employee of the center discovers that the human ashes obtained after euthanasia are sent to a large company to be recycled. This reuse of the dead body emphasizes enough that the old body is now worth more dead than alive.
The idea that big capital has succeeded in infiltrating the management of old age, but also right down to the most intimate of death, appears vividly in the way in which the moments leading up to euthanasia are filmed. say. In Green Sun as in Map 75, the employees of the euthanasia center are young, beautiful and benevolent. Candidates for euthanasia are guaranteed a marvelous end; Sol is asked what his favorite color and music are, and he dies before a panorama of the most beautiful sights on earth. In Map 75, candidates for euthanasia receive 100,000 yen, which they can spend as they see fit before the fixed day of their death; Michi goes back to going out, she goes bowling, has luxury sushi delivered… We can only be struck by the cynicism of a system that reminds elderly people who want to die because their living conditions do not allow more a dignified life how beautiful life can be, when you have the means to live it.
Green Sun and Map 75 are dystopias that work precisely because they deviate little from the world as we know it. Far from being incriminating pamphlets against any form of active assistance in dying with dignity, they ask that we take the time to question what forces are at work in our decision-making.
By focusing on the specific case of the elderly, and at a time when they are increasingly perceived as a burden that weighs on the richest economies, these films push us to ask ourselves questions that are both economic and policies, and to take time for reflection. They help to breathe new life into a debate that is sometimes hostage to irreconcilable positions, and participate in “the ethics of discussion” called for by Professor Didier Dreyfuss:
“Only able to arrive, if not at a consensus (too often synonymous with self-censorship), at least at a reduction in the intensity of the dissensus. »
“Green Sun” (“Soylent Green”) can be seen in replay on Arte until the end of October and “Plan 75” is still shown in some cinemas (especially in Paris and the Paris region).
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“Green Sun” and “Plan 75”: two dystopian films to fuel reflection on euthanasia