“Every man dies, not every man truly lives.”
That truism has several variations and possible sources. Often it is through the nearness of death that we begin to see what life is really about. That is the concept that Hannah Marks explores in Don’t Make Me Go.
Max Park (John Cho) is a single father who is beginning to struggle with raising his teenage daughter Wally (Mia Isaac), who is herself struggling with who she wants to be. Max is diagnosed with a tumor that if untreated will be fatal within a year. The treatment has a large chance of killing him sooner. He decides to use his time to spend with Wally, so they take a road trip from California to New Orleans for his college reunion. Wally (who knows nothing of the diagnosis) is less than thrilled, but since Max is going to teach her to drive, she consents.
Max has another goal for the trip. He hopes to connect Wally with her mother, who abandoned them when Wally was a baby. Max doesn’t know where she lives, but hopes that the reunion will be a chance to find her. He also doesn’t know if his ex would have any desire to take on being Wally’s mother—or if Wally wants anything to do with the woman who left her.
The road trip gives father and daughter a chance to discover things about each other. Max promises to be truthful with Wally, but fails to confide the most important things—such as his impending death. But death really allows the film to think about what it means to live, and how one should live with the knowledge of the reality of death.
Philosophers and theologians have wrestled through the centuries about just these kinds of questions. For this film, the key lesson is to live fully—even if it means taking risks. It is to not let death define our lives, but rather for life to be meaningful each moment.
Wally frequently sees her father as being too conservative in life. Along the way, Max takes Wally to a casino. The lesson he has in mind is that the odds are against you. So he lets her choose his bets at a roulette table. One after another they lose. But there is also a lesson, that the bigger the risk, the bigger the payout.
When they arrive at the reunion and she meets some of Max’s old friends and hears their wild stories, she asks, “When did he get so boring?” They reply, “He grew up.” Adulthood carries responsibilities. For Max, part of that is to find a way to care for Wally when he is gone.
Wally and Max both have lessons to learn about how to live knowing that death is a reality. It is in the ways they teach each other, that their relationship—even though it may be limited by impending death—will give meaning to both of their lives.
Don’t Make Me Go streams on Prime Video.
Photos courtesy of Amazon Studios.