Combustible Celluloid
With: n/a
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Katrine Philp
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 88
Date: 01/22/2021

Beautiful Something Left Behind (2021)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dead Reckonings

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Available through the Roxie's Virtual Cinema, the documentary Beautiful Something Left Behind is a unique, moving experience, exploring a topic that most of us would rather not explore.

An organization called Good Grief, located in Morristown, New Jersey, is dedicated to helping children grapple with the deaths of their parents or other close family members.

Directed by Katrine Philp, the doc makes the bold decision to focus entirely on a group of kids, ranging in age from 5 to 10. While adults appear on camera, only kids are actually interviewed.

Right off the bat, viewers will want to reach for their tissues as they meet eight-year-old Nicky, sitting at a table with some other kids and working on making a little bracelet.

His eyebrows begin to knot and his mouth begins to turn down as he fights back tears. His small, unguarded face conveys all the love and loss he feels for his late dad.

The counselors jump into action, asserting that it's OK for Nicky to cry. The other kids get on board. One offers, "crying makes your eyes clean."

Nicky and his twin sister Kimmy lost their father in the hospital, but neither explains the cause of death. The film's spell is occasionally broken by questions of this type, which are never answered. But, in the end, these things may or may not be important.

Six year-old Peter has lost both of his parents. His mother died in a car crash, and his father died from what he calls "bad medicine."

He now lives with his uncle CJ, a burly, tattooed man, who clearly loves his nephew. But there's a sense of hesitation. One wonders what CJ's story is. Is this perhaps sometimes a burden that he never bargained for?

Along the way, we meet Nolan, 9, and his sister Nora, 10. Nolan describes his father as having gone to a party, where his father's friends gave him something that made him lie down on the couch, go to sleep, and never again wake up.

The precocious Mikayla, 5, lives with her mother now, and describes heaven as pink. They visit her father's grave, and she wonders whether the death date on the headstone is his phone number.

The movie takes place largely over the course of a year, including a bittersweet Christmas season, as new guardians attempt to make a nice holiday for the grieving children.

At Good Grief headquarters, the kids get into discussions, for example, about people that are constantly asking "are you OK," and what, exactly, a soul is.

They also make crafts — bracelets and paper plate portraits — to honor their loved ones. They play in a strange indoor sandbox that, instead of tractors and blocks, contains little coffins and headstones.

Peter plays with some toy figures, smashing them up in a toy car and proclaiming "he's dead!"

The counselors are always there, suggesting ideas for crafts, reinforcing and encouraging the kids' play. The movie gives us no indication as to who they are, whether they're volunteers or staff, or how the facility operates.

But director Philp's choice to zero in on the kids actually has something in common with several Pixar movies, notably Toy Story 3, Coco, Onward,, and the recent Soul.

Those movies, like Beautiful Something Left Behind, get closer to discussing death than any other recent mainstream media. By cutting through any kind of philosophy or psychology and simply viewing death with a childlike purity, perhaps we come closer to truly understanding or accepting it.

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