Euphoria is set at a secluded European forest retreat, a quiet, pastoral place that’s somewhere between a turn-of-the-century sanitarium and an upper-class bed-and-breakfast. It’s an escape from the outside world where guests can enjoy fine meals of their choosing, lounge beside a peaceful wooded pond, maybe converse with a fellow traveler or two. And then, when they’re ready to “leave,” they can expect the place’s kindly, accommodating staff to provide them a death that’s just as tranquil, unburdened, and voluntary as everything else that the place has to offer.
Yes, writer/director Lisa Langseth’s English-language debut is a film about what is, essentially, a euthanasia resort – one where dying people (at least, those who can afford it) can shuffle off this mortal coil in a setting far more serene than, say, a hospital room. While it does present a thought-provoking – for some viewers, maybe even appealing – notion of what “death with dignity” could look like, though, Euphoria feels dramatically inert, its weighty themes of mortality and regret and the bonds of sisterhood never drawn out completely or lucidly enough. It’s a nice-looking, very competently made film that, alas, doesn’t seem to have much of substance to say about some very substantial matters.
“Emilie has invited Ines to accompany her on a getaway to what she cryptically refers to as a ‘special place’…”
Things start out promisingly enough, with the film’s opening scenes nicely capturing the unsettled relationship between struggling artist Ines (Alicia Vikander) and her older sister Emilie (Eva Green), reuniting after several years mostly estranged. Emilie has invited Ines to accompany her on a getaway to what she cryptically refers to as a “special place.” Ines, at first, has no idea that Emilie is terminally ill and intends the trip as a sort of peaceful exit from existence – with her sister there to support her during her final days.
That revelation, so charged with dramatic potential, perhaps happens too early on in Euphoria, because once Emilie’s intentions and the true nature of the sisters’ destination is made clear, the film and its central relationship sink into a repetitive pattern of betrayal, arguing, and forgiveness on the way to a muted, largely foregone conclusion. Green and Vikander are two of the most vibrant actors of their generation, but they’re poorly served by a script that’s vague and understated to the point where none of the present or past traumas their characters face feel like they carry much weight or consequence. If their dialogue had more specificity, more of a feel of real lives lived and reflected upon, Euphoria might have worked as a kind of maudlin hangout movie, but the film doesn’t quite manage even that.
“…a thought-provoking…notion of what “death with dignity” could look like.”
Admittedly, there are fleeting moments when Euphoria gets close to some emotional resonance, but – in a somewhat counter-productive choice – they mostly don’t involve Emilie and Ines. A pair of older characters, played by the wonderful Charlotte Rampling and Charles Dance, is gifted with some of the film’s most affecting material, and (like Green and Vikander) the seasoned supporting players do their best to inject what life they can. But, alas, their roles turn out not to have much lasting impact, even if their hinted-at backstories are far more intriguing than those of the sisters at the film’s center.
It’s not that Euphoria lacks good intentions or comes off as superficial in its treatment of death and dying. It’s just that there’s so much potential for grace or humor or despair or horror inherent in its premise. It’s sad to see so much of that thematic territory go so thoroughly, if politely, unexplored.