Veronika Decides to Die


Rating 3

Directed by Emily Young

Written by Roberta Hanley and Larry Gross, based on the novel by Paulo Coelho

Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar (Veronika Deklava), Jonathan Tucker (Edward), David Thewlis (Dr Blake), Melissa Leo (Mari), Erika Christensen (Claire), Florencia Lozano (Dr Thompson), Erika Gimpel (Nurse White), Rena Owen (Nurse Josephine), Victor Steinbach (Veronika’s father) and Barbara Sukowa (Veronika’s mother)

Veronika attempts suicide by taking a large quantity of prescription pills mixed with alcohol. She wakes up from a coma two weeks later to discover that she is in a privately funded psychiatric hospital, paid for by her parents. She is told that the effect of the pills has caused irreparable damage to her heart and she only has weeks left to live. Her first reaction is anger and a second attempt at suicide, but then she becomes increasingly drawn towards another patient, Edward, who is very remote and never speaks, but who seems to have paid particular notice of her arrival.


‘Veronika Decides to Die’, directed by the British film director Emily Young, the daughter of the late political journalist Hugo Young, is based on a successful novel by the Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, which was first published in 1998 and has previously been adapted for the theatre several times. The 2005 Japanese film ‘Veronika wa shinu koto ni shita’ is also based on the book, which I have not read.

I approached the film with a degree of bias. I am very fond of the actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, partly because of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, but more so because I like her acting and I like many of her previous films, despite widespread opinion that her film career has so far failed to impress. It has often been claimed that she has done little more than appear in a succession of horror films, although in fact she has made comparatively few of these. ‘Veronika Decides to Die’ is attractively made, with some really rather good opening scenes to set the tone.

Veronika’s anger perhaps didn’t always come across as strongly as I felt it might have done and her subsequent realisation that with no future to hold her back she could do anything without the fear of consequences, at which point she began to find a reason to live, wasn’t as profound as it needed to be to avoid becoming a tab glib. The unorthodox methods of the hospital’s chief psychiatrist Dr Blake were presented in a such a subtle manner (the denouement aside) that it almost became undercooked, but David Thewlis made it work with a finely judged performance. The significance of the letter Veronika wrote after taking the pills almost seeped away without fully making its point, much like the anger she felt towards her parents and the anger she directed at herself for feeling anger towards them. Likewise, the comparisons we were invited to make between the situations of Veronika, Edward and Claire. This decidedly quiet approach to the subject almost escaped me at first, but was ultimately rather attractive and appealing.

What perhaps was lacking to some degree was a clear enough motivation for Veronika to became so quickly drawn towards Edward and he towards her, the central thrust of the story. We can, however, surmise the affinity she initially felt towards him because he had deliberately shut himself off from the world around him. She, in turn, gave him something finally to want and need, bringing him back to a point where human contact became important, but this aspect of the narrative sometimes seemed a little unfocused. Veronika’s bleak and entrenched belief that life was not worth living was, I am inclined to say, too easily changed.

The film possibly needed a bit more substance. However, my only real gripe is that I quickly guessed where the story was headed and how it would conclude and I didn’t find it an entirely satisfying end on this first viewing. Perhaps it works better in the novel.

Sarah Michelle Gellar has not had much luck since the 2004 box office hit ‘The Grudge’, making interesting choices that have failed to match the success of that film. ‘Veronika Decides to Die’ is no exception and despite being a very good film it has not so far found a distributor (or, at least, a release date) in either the US or in Britain.

The original music for the film is by Murray Gold, whose name has become familiar in recent years because of the huge success of the revived BBC television series ‘Doctor Who’. David Thewlis has had a long and successful career in films and in theatre. His partner Anna Friel recently had a lead role in the ABC Network series ‘Pushing Daisies’.

Review posted 5 December 2009


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