Skip to main content

The darkly funny and wildly imaginative Dick Johnson is Dead is a love letter from a daughter to a father, creatively blending fact and fiction to create a celebratory exploration of how movies give us the tools to grapple with life’s profundity.

Netflix

  • Dick Johnson Is Dead
  • Directed by Kirsten Johnson
  • Classification PG; 89 minutes

rating

3 out of 4 stars

Few directors, let alone documentarians, enjoy auspicious breakout moments as does Kirsten Johnson. A long-time cinematographer for mostly non-fiction films, Johnson deftly edited together a wealth of footage from her career on other people’s movies to craft her own feature-length directorial effort, 2016′s Cameraperson.

Dick Johnson and some crew members behind the scenes on Dick Johnson is Dead.

Kirsten Johnson/Netflix/Netflix

The resulting document – calling it a film would not be entirely accurate – instantly marked Johnson as an enigmatic, essential voice. But after mining her entire life up until that moment, what would be her follow-up? Easy: She would kill her father.

Dick Johnson Is Dead does involve several scenes in which Kristen Johnson's real-life father suffers a grisly fate; all staged, and with her father’s full, gleeful participation.

Netflix

Sort of. Johnson’s new work, Dick Johnson Is Dead, does indeed involve several scenes in which her real-life father, the retired psychiatrist of the title, suffers a grisly fate. But the moments – see Dick fall down the stairs, see Dick get impaled by a piece of wood, see Dick get crushed by an A/C unit – are all staged, and with her father’s full, gleeful participation. In imagining her father’s demise, Johnson is preparing for the inevitable. And by committing these tongue-in-cheek nightmares to film, she has created a peculiar but moving work of art.

Story continues below advertisement

Dick Johnson and his daughter award-winning filmmaker Kirsten Johnson, on the set of Dick Johnson is Dead.

Barbara Nitke/Netflix/Netflix

Not every fantastical element works as well as Johnson thinks. For instance: an effort to create the Heaven of Dick’s Seventh-day Adventist dreams uneasily walks the line between sincerity and mockery. But you’re unlikely to any time soon encounter a more thorough and energetic dive into the art of letting go. I look forward to Johnson’s next act, whilst I look over my shoulder.

Dick Johnson Is Dead is available to stream on Netflix starting Oct. 2

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.

Follow related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies