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Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2002)

Wilbur begår selvmord, Wilbur (Sweden)

The life he wanted to end, was just about to begin

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 109 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Danish writer/director Lone Scherfig debuted with the sweet ensemble film Italian for Beginners, which he made according to the restrictive precepts of the Dogme 95 manifesto – and while his latest, Scotland-set outing, 'Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself', is not strictly a Dogme film, it certainly follows the Dogme spirit, with its low-key settings, avoidance of superficial action, and focus on character. After the death of their father, Wilbur (Robbie Williams look-a-like Jamie Sives) has moved in with his older brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) to the back of the family's secondhand bookshop. Wilbur is helping Harbour keep the failing business afloat, while Harbour is keeping an eye on Wilbur, who has been suffering from suicidal depression ever since the death of their mother when he was five years old. The brothers make an odd couple – suicidal Wilbur is selfish, avoids stable attachments and can see no reason to live, while Harbour is generous, lives in fear of death and leaps at the opportunity to settle down with single mother Alice (Shirley Henderson) and her young daughter Mary (Lisa McKinlay). Yet in this tale of life and death, love and loneliness, and the bonds of family, the brothers are destined for a moving reversal of rôles. 'Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself' is pervaded with the themes of morbidity and death, and punctuated with regular suicide attempts, yet its script (co-written by Anders Thomas Jensen) has enough witty lines and quirky characters (mostly hospital staff) to keep you smiling grimly. All the acting is excellent, from the four main characters right down to the bit parts – I particularly enjoyed the understatedly wry performance of Mads Mikkelsen as the dour Dr Horst. However, while many films manage to be more than the sum of their parts, 'Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself' ends up being something less. For all its qualities as an eccentric ensemble piece, it is clear exactly where the film is headed about a third of the way through, and from there on it just limps along, with no real deviations or surprises, taking far too long to reach its inevitable conclusion. It is true that the ending is touching, but it would have been much more so if it had come a good half hour earlier, before fidgety tedium had been allowed to spread through the film like a cancer. Death, no doubt, comes to us all, whether by choice or by chance – I just wish in this case that it had come a little sooner.

It's Got: One character gradually overcoming his aversion to ear-licking, the revelation that the blackness and utter silence of death is a bit like Wales, a book entitled The Joy of Pickling (offered as an alternative to the works of Kipling), and lots of symbolism involving roasted duck.

It Needs: To lose at least half an hour.


A solid ensemble film about love, death and family, unfortunately let down by its terminally excessive length.