Documentaries don’t get much more intimate than Ondi Timoner’s deeply personal Last Flight Home, which captures the last few weeks of her father Eli’s life before he chooses to end it through physician-assisted suicide. As Eli’s family gathers to bid him farewell and help each other through this heartwrenching transition, they celebrate his memorable life and their enduring love for him, as well as wrestle with their feelings about the decision he’s made.
Nearly 40 years after an unexpected stroke left him partially paralyzed in his early 50s, Eli Timoner is frail and bed-ridden, slowly succumbing to terminal illness. He’s in pain and unhappy about becoming an increasing burden to his family, including his devoted wife, Lisa, and his adult children – Ondi, her sister, Rachel, and their brother, David. He’s ready to be done. And so his family helps him carry out his wishes, realizing that he needs their love and support more than ever to make it to the end. The cameras roll as Eli Timoner meets with his doctors, is evaluated to ensure that he’s of sound mind, and bids adieu to longtime friends and far-away relatives.
As Eli’s final day approaches, his family members share their memories of his life before the stroke, when he was a vigorous, active, athletic husband and dad – as well as a respected businessman who co-founded Air Florida, disrupting the airline industry. Even after his stroke changed his life, Eli was an involved father and grandfather, as well as a devoted Rachel Maddow fan who’s well versed in current events (and has a particularly vicious fate in mind for Donald Trump). In short, he’s a complex, interesting person who’s lived a noteworthy life, and it’s devastating for those who love him to let him go.
But let him go they do, with powerful love and compassion accompanying their acute sorrow. Rachel, a rabbi, is particularly focused on helping Eli make peace with any regrets he has about his life before he goes, knowing it will ease his mind. The scenes of Eli’s final goodbye and passing are devastating in their emotional rawness – even though you know it’s coming and the family has been preparing for it for weeks, it’s somehow shocking in its abruptness. But the fact that Eli departs his life surrounded by the bustle and energy of his loved ones reinforces the idea that death can and should be seen as a natural part of life, and it can be something that brings people closer together. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Pam Grady: Documentarian Ondi Timoner, whose films have included Dig! and Mapplethorpe, turns her lens on her own family as her father, Air Florida founder Eli Timoner, long paralyzed by a stroke he suffered in his 50s and suffering from congestive heart failure, makes the decision to die by suicide as allowed by California law. While filling in the outlines of her father’s life, Timoner’s film is mostly concerned with its impending end as the family gathers to make their goodbyes. It is a moving documentary but one that ought to come with a trigger warning: Those who have attended their own parent’s or other loved one’s final days may not want to relive their grief through the Timoners’ experience and may wonder why they are intruding on another family at such a vulnerable moment.
Susan Wloszczyna: Ondi Timoner’s highly personal, profoundly bittersweet, and somewhat disquieting documentary Last Flight Home,” having agency over one’s final departure isn’t exclusively reserved for those existing in conflict with the status quo. Her father, Eli Timoner’s, was resolute on exercising California’s End of Life Option Act—only available to terminally ill adults. While several European nations protect this course of action within stringent limitations, just 11 states in the United States 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. Read full review.
Nell Minow: Eli Timoner has just one hope for his future: he wants an assisted death. Forty years after a debilitating stroke and suffering terribly he is just strong enough to go through the gauntlet of medical and legal steps necessary, with the support of his touchingly devoted family. This intimate documentary brings us inside the last days with all of the grief of losing a deeply beloved parent and all of satisfaction of doing one last mitzvah for him.
Marilyn Ferdinand In 2016, California enacted the End of Life Option Act, giving individuals who pass evaluations by two physicians in a 15-day period the right receive prescriptions to end their lives. In Last Flight Home, award-winning documentary director and producer Ondi Timoner turns the camera on herself and her family to record her father’s final days under the End of Life Option Act. Eli Timoner had been a highly successful founder and executive of Air Florida, but following a stroke he suffered after a chiropractor cracked his neck, he lived with partial paralysis and the work discrimination that came with it. By 2021, at the age of 92, he experienced frequent falls and could no longer bear the burdens he was placing on his wife and family. His decision to die becomes a countdown for them and us as we watch him say good-bye to the many people whose lives he touched. (He even got a farewell from his favorite TV personality, Rachel Maddow.) Last Flight Home is an emotional experience that confronts us with the fate we all face while posing the question of what goes into a good life and a good death. Lyrics from “Seasons of Love” have Eli’s answer: “Share love, give love, spread love … / Measure your life in love.”
Leslie Combemale Watching a respected and loved father and patriarch choose to end his life and have all those who love him support and be present for it is at once terrifying and beautiful. This is especially true for those who have seen loss up close, and been present to witness the effects on most saddened and wounded by it. For those who have yet experience loss, because Last Flight Home is a chronicle of the last weeks of Eli Timoner’s life, the father of the film’s director Ondi Timoner, it is nothing but unflinching, raw truth, tempered with a bit of Eli’s humor. Everyone in the extended family bears witness. The film offers a glimpse of an experience all will face at some point, unless death comes for them first, so there’s a need for films like this, as excruciating as some scenes are to watch. Our society hides death and pretends it isn’t coming for everyone, and that does only the mainstream medical community any good. Viewers will be left wanting to call those they love seconds after the screen goes dark.
Jennifer Merin Last Flight Home, filmmaker Ondi Timoner’s very personal and affecting documentary, is about the assisted suicide of her father, chronicling his debilitating terminal illness and his decision to take his life. The film also a tribute to her father, the founder of an airline and a respected influencer (before the current popularization of the term). This illuminating and very honest look at the personal assessment of quality of life issues is meaningful for all of us.
Sandie Angulo Chen: I have to admit to crying through much of the final third of Last Flight Home. Filmmaker Ondie Timoner’s brave, raw, and devastatingly beautiful documentary about her 92-year-old father’s final few weeks after invoking California’s right-do-die law is so personal it can be tough to watch. Ondie and her siblings – rabbi older sister Rachel, and producer younger brother David – support their father Eli and their mother Lisa as they collectively experience the mandatory 15-day waiting period the California End of Life Option Act requires for terminally ill adults before they can self-administer life-ending medication. The film, particularly for anyone who has lost a close loved one to illness, can be grief-triggering but is so important. With the death date on the calendar, Eli and the Timoner clan, including five teen and young adult grandchildren, are blessed with the ability to give and receive final goodbyes, conversations, even confessions. Ondie Timoner weaves in archival and personal family footage of her father, a former entrepreneur and philanthropist who was permanently disabled after a stroke at age 53, and the family from their years living in Miami’s philanthropy circles. The film, while undeniably sad, is a powerful testimony to a daughter’s love, a father’s legacy, and how in the end it’s love, not money or accolades or inheritance, that comforts the soul.
Liz Whittemore Director Ondi Timoner captures her father Eli Timoner’s final wish; to end his life on his terms. Eli spent his life as a hugely successful entrepreneur and creator of Air Florida until a stroke and subsequent accident paralyzed him, and the board pushed him into early retirement. After forty years of struggling and pain, Eli expresses his desire to die. Read full review.
Cate Marquis In Last Flight Home, a beloved father, once the founder of an airline, a generous, influential philanthropist, and good father but now in failing health, elderly and long ago disabled by a stroke, says his final goodbyes, surrounded by family and friends. What makes this moving documentary unique is that the father has chosen assisted suicide, as permitted under California law, and one of his daughters, Ondi Timoner, is a filmmaker, who documents her father’s final days. California law requires him to wait 15 days after legally declaring his decision for the suicide itself, and during those 15 days, the film looks back on the father’s remarkable life, as he says his goodbyes to his family and a flock of friends, and also as he reflects on his life surrounded by those who love him. A deeply moving, meaningful and insightful film on what makes a life well lived.
Title: Last Flight Home
Directors: Ondi Timoner
Release Date: November 29, 2022
Running Time: 101 minutes
Screenwriters: Ondi Timoner (‘documentary)
Distribution Company: MTV Documentary Films
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin