If you knew you were going to die and had the choice between a gradual but painful death or a death which you get to plan out to a tee--- deciding the exact date/time of your death, the place, and who you’ll be surrounded with in your final moments--- which would you choose? Jack Tuller chose the latter.
Jack Has a Plan is a documentary of a man on a mission to die on his own terms. And as morbid as this mission may sound, the documentary shows a man that is far from morbid. It begins with the ending of Jack’s life, in the bathroom of his going-away party moments before he decides to take his own life by way of euthanasia. But he’s not sad, in fact, he doesn’t shed a tear. He’s been anticipating this day, and now that the day has finally come, he’s ready for the end.
But what has led Jack to come to such a decision? It started in 1994, when Jack was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor and was estimated to have only a few months to live. He eventually underwent surgery to have the tumor removed and the operation was, at its time, mostly successful. He and his (then) girlfriend, Jennifer Cariño, threw a party to celebrate, and in the years to come, they got married and Jack built a career as a real estate agent. Fast forward to 2016, Jack begins to have frequent seizures and moments of aphasia. He then learns that the tumor never was fully removed and was, in fact, growing again. Jack Has a Plan, which spans the last three years of Jack’s, life shows the slow but deteriorating effects of the tumor on his brain. But more than this, the documentary shows a man trying to make the most of his time on earth as he attempts at reconnect with his distant mother (forcing him to revisit his difficult childhood), search for his biological father, and spend his remaining time with his loved ones.
What the documentary does best is give the audience a full view of Jack’s vibrant personality, as well as the effect his spirit had on others. He dances freely in his living room, wears a constant smile on his face, and carries not an ounce cynicism in him. He’s mastered the ability of remaining lighthearted in every situation; even when he loses the ability to keep his eyes open on his own, he laughs it off. But of course, despite his unwavering positivity, there is an underlying darkness that no amount of upbeat music (which the documentary uses liberally) can cover up. We witness the effects that his illness has on his wife Jennifer, who faces the stress of caring for a terminally ill spouse while also financially providing for both of them. Along with this, Jack’s friends and family have trouble accepting his decision to end his life. As Jonathan Lemon, Jack’s cartoonist friend, says, “It would be a loss to the world for Jack to remove himself from the ranks of the living when he brings so much happiness and joy to so many people.” Jack is not blind to the effect that his decision is having on his loved ones. In fact, he sympathizes with them more than his own self. Nonetheless, he refuses to waver from his own gut. He was determined to die with dignity, whether or not people agreed.
We, like Jack’s loved ones, get to experience Jack Tuller through this documentary. And though we as an audience already know how the film ends, Jack has endeared himself to us so much that we don’t want him to go. It is through his life that one learns what it means to truly live, and to leave a mark on others.
Jack Has A Plan screens online for 24 hours at the Spring 2023 New Jersey Film Festival this Saturday, February 4. To buy tickets go here.
For General Info on the Film Festival go here: https://newjerseyfilmfestivalspring2023.eventive.org/welcome