‘Dick Johnson Is Dead’...Well, Sort Of | Sojourners

‘Dick Johnson Is Dead’...Well, Sort Of

In her film, Kirsten Johnson wrestles with her father's diagnosis and eventual death.

THE HYMN “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” is one of my favorites in the Episcopal tradition, usually sung on All Saints Day. It concludes with the line, “For the saints of God are just folk like me / And I mean to be one, too.” It’s a reminder of the people in our lives—living and otherwise—who are everyday saints, not canonized but important in our formation.

In Dick Johnson Is Dead, filmmaker Kirsten Johnson celebrates her father, one such everyday saint. Dick isn’t actually dead, but he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. How much of his life remains isn’t certain, but Johnson is determined to show him just how well he’s loved by trying to rid him of some of his fear of death.

Johnson does this in a darkly funny way that’s true to her dad’s mischievous streak: She collaborates with him on a series of staged scenes depicting his death from a variety of accidents. Dick is crushed by an air conditioner, falls down stairs, is hit by a construction worker’s nail-filled board, and more. “Everyone dies,” Johnson reminds us, even the people we love the most.

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