At its best moments, Exit Music is elegant at portraying heartbreak. It features Ethan Rice, a 28 year old who was born with cystic fibrosis, and his father Ed. The documentary brings up a lot of issues about diseases and relationships. How does a dad go on raising a dying son?
Cameron Mullennaux shows a good mix here. There’s ‘present day’ interviews with Ed’s archive footage and Ethan’s animation. Ed is a Vietnam vet and a lot of Ethan’s childhood is Ed showing his kids what he went through. Although, of course, he acknowledges that Vietnam is not as difficult as Ethan’s life and struggles.
Ethan’s animation is one of the movie’s highlights. Most play with toy soldiers but this is his way of dealing with Ed’s past. Mullennaux made a great educated guess in her subjects. She’s lucky in capturing two people who are altruistic despite facing their own situations.
Another reason I like the animation is that it showcases Ethan outside of his disease. He didn’t release any of his stuff before death, but he’s an animator and a musician in his own right. Through these scenes Mulluneaux shows us that what we make defines us, despite of everything.
Surviving is paramount in facing a disease but Mullennaux shows guts in presenting a how much that ethos is burdensome. She captures Ethan as he states why he has to live through the summer. He lists his dad as his reason, mentioning that he and Vietnam aren’t Ed’s only baggage.
There is that question of how much of Ethan’s suffering both Mullennaux and Ed should capture for the cameras. For a shorter film it also doesn’t fully answer all of its questions. But what it gets across, at least, is the emotional toll of dealing with dying while being young.
Exit Music is playing twice at the Scotiabank Theatre. Dates are on April 27 at 6:15 PM and on April 29 at 1 PM. Last show is at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on May 5 at 5:45 PM.