Ondi Timonen’s highly personal, profoundly bittersweet, and somewhat disquieting documentary Last Flight Home is about having agency over one’s final departure that isn’t exclusively reserved for those existing in conflict with the status quo. Her father, Eli Timoner, was resolute on exercising California’s End of Life Option Act—only available to terminally ill adults. Several European nations protect this course of action within stringent limitations, but only 11 states in the permit what’s known as “medical aid in dying. “ As a director, Timoner doesn’t take up any debate over her father wanting to control his final days.
Timoner, however, doesn’t concern herself with any ideological debate over the morality of her elderly dad’s chosen passage into the afterlife. Instead, she illustrates the value of people having this resource through her family’s first-hand experience. For her, the subject transitioned from theoretical talking point to a hard-to-face reality. Still, the lack of big-picture context on the issue ultimately comes across as a missed opportunity to inform.
Timoner waits a bit too long to tell the viewers to that her father suffered a stroke in 1982 after getting a massage that left him partially paralyzed for the next 40 years and that Eli helped run the now-defunct carrier Air Florida. But the bulk of the images immortalize Eli as he lovingly and lucidly interacts with in-person visitors and loved ones over Zoom to say goodbye despite his weakened state. The last 15 days leading up to the event provide Last Flight Home with a built-in structure to which the filmmaker attaches multiple interviews with her siblings: Rachel, a rabbi, and David as well as their mother Lucy at different stages in the ordeal of confronting mortality.