How to Get Ready to Die: Thoughts on “These Final Hours”

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Everyone wonders what he would do if he only had a year to live. Doing so can be an interesting thought experiment. The usual result is that people think they would make changes, live more deeply, take more risks. Then, everyone just goes back to living the way he had been before.

Such hypothetical situations are rendered both more intense and more urgent in Zak Hilditch’s 2013 film “These Final Hours .” The film tells the story of the last several hours of life on earth. We never know why the world is ending, only that the end is coming.

The story is set in Perth, Australia and focuses on Jim, an irresponsible hedonist, as he spends his remaining time making choices that define his character. Along the way, he encounters others trying to deal with their impending demise.

Most seek pleasure, trying to numb themselves with sensation. Others take the news of their approaching doom as license for savage violence. A bunch of people just kill themselves.

Jim seems confused. He doesn’t know what to do. Intent first on finding a party he’s been invited to, he stumbles on a child in need and changes his plan. At no point though, does he feel confident about the choices he’s making.

This is why the audience relates to Jim. For all our safe reflection on what we would do if we knew our time were really limited, most of us simply don’t have a grip on the values that would lead us through.

What we see in “These Final Hours” is people who, when death is approaching, reveal that they never really knew why they were alive. All they have to guide them is the lust for pleasure or the rush of violent power, the thrill of some final transgression.

Most of us are like that. But, the expectation of a few years to come provides the illusion we need to permit ourselves to avoid the hard work of deciding what matters, what is right, what is true. In fact, for many people, a successful life is one perpetually comfortable enough to never make answering such questions necessary.

But, just like the people in the movie, our time really is limited. Unlike them, we have the option of pretending otherwise. This pretending, as pretending always does, interferes with the development of character. Accepting your mortality is a big step toward wisdom. Growing up starts with knowing you’re going to die.

Few people really take that step. So, they wind up like Jim, bewildered, confused by catastrophe, hoping that when it’s needed, the character necessary to face the end will just materialize. It won’t. Not unless the seeds of it have been sown long before the sun started to go down.

The only way to really prepare for the end is to know why you’re living now. This means rejecting, to some degree, the never-ending carnival of our popular culture and seeking silence, space to reflect. Imagine you’re Jim, only a few hours left. What would you hope to do for yourself and others? What would it take to maintain your self-respect as you step into the dark? Once those answers emerge, you have to go live them, no matter what the cost, while you’ve still got time.

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