Written by Filipa Henriques.
By the time I’m starting to write this article we are getting closer to beginning to start a normal life again - or at least it’s what's being said. Over the last two months we’ve seen life as we knew it falling apart - our friends losing their jobs or afraid of losing them, struggling with fear of getting sick and of what’s going to happen next; all our plans for a great year vanished for reasons we try but can’t totally understand. Something we understood during these weeks is that dystopia is only fun in the books. It’s hard not to get emotional these days, we are all going through a process of grief alone.
Grief is what made me write about After Life. Personally, it’s not an easy theme for me to talk about. I’ve been dealing with grief for a few years, trying to straighten feelings and nostalgia day by day. I’ve tried books (Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a really good one), podcasts and all sort of this things and I’ve found in Ricky Gervais' sensibility something I didn’t really find anywhere else: the refined, sensitive humour that we need to go through life without getting insane.
I believe it’s important to make a disclaimer: I’m not a keen fan of Gervais' work. I was never into The Office, only watched a few episodes and it was never my type of humour. It impressed me how much this series touched me in all its ways.The plot is quite simple (and depressing): Tony (Ricky Gervais) is sad and still missing his wife who died of cancer. The only thing that’s stopping him killing himself is their dog and he goes through his days working in a small local newspaper, feeding the dog, visiting his old dying dad and being rude to people. He’s mad (how can’t he be?), he cries, he drinks, he’s afraid of moving on. He’s the representation of adulthood, showing us that we’re never ready to deal with loss.
This fear of moving on is something we all feel when trying to get back to our normal life. It somehow feels like it’s selfish to go through with your own life when the person you love is not around anymore. Eventually we all find coping mechanisms: we avoid birthdays, family events, special places… it’s like trying not to create new memories so the old ones don’t vanish. Gervais is able to create this nostalgic atmosphere in a way that he breaks our hearts but he also makes us laugh.
We all know that time heals, but what do you do when time seems to be endless? This is also a common theme in After Life and I believe it’s what hooked me up with every episode the most. Tony starts living a loop - he wakes up, showers, feeds the dog, tries to feed himself and goes to work. It’s like his life ended as well, and somehow it did. Death is natural but when dealing with it it’s like dealing with a supernatural thing that you don’t know where to fold.
I like to believe that our life - it’s core - is made of the people we love. When someone we love dies we die a little. We need to start from scratch, to create different routines so pain doesn’t overcome us. It’s easier said than done and we feel this in every tear, every joke, every laugh of Tony.
After Life is the apotheosis of dark comedy. It made me laugh, cry and feel all the strange emotions I was avoiding feeling for a long time. In the end of the day you know that everything is going to be alright, but it’s also going to be very different - and that’s ok.
Filipa Henriques works at Portugal Film - Portuguese Film Agency, an institution for the advancement and widespread reach of Portuguese independent cinema. Her studies started in the North of Portugal at Universidade do Minho and continued onto a semester in France's Paris Descartes and a masters' degree in Lisbon's Nova FCSH. After interning at the world renowned film festival IndieLisboa and the documentary film oriented Apordoc - Associação pelo Documentário, she started work at Portugal Film three years ago. She is now completing her studies with a second masters' degree at ISCTE on the Arts' Markets and recently started to collaborate with the IndieMusic selection committee at IndieLisboa.