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For the past two years, Ryan and Amy Green have been working on That Dragon, Cancer, a videogame about their son Joel's fight against that disease. Following the family through the creation of the game and the day-to-day realities of Joel’s treatment, David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall create a moving testament to the joy and heartbreak of raising a terminally ill child.
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★★★★ review by Ray on Letterboxd
There's a certain throughline to this wherein this dad is essentially forcefully adamant that other people confront the realities of death. Sometimes it's his stated purpose, it's what he makes the game for after all, but at other times it bubbles under the surface in weird ways. For one, it leads to maybe the most potent scene in the movie when he's getting his other sons to do voiceover for the game he's making about his son with cancer and one of them is clearly not at that place yet, as one would have to imagine is understandable for young children. For another, though, it gives this movie a lot of punch, a lot of identity, a lot more power than it may perhaps otherwise have. I don't know that I personally agree with his sentiment that we need to all think a lot more about death but the movie digs into what drives him enough, where he comes from as a person, that by the time they read some very angry comments about the game it plays exclusively as reactionary grotesquery the internet is known for, rather than them seeming to have a point, kinda the litmus test the movie really needed.
It takes that base and builds very admirably outward from there, into particulars about game design and design philosophy, about the spirituality this family has, and doesn't really signpost these moments, just lets them become part of the fabric of the family dynamic, filling in what is a very straightforwardly sad story with little flourishes. It takes off most, especially, after it has a base of all these things and, slowly, becomes less and less of a guided process, something the dad is shaping through narration and what have you, and is instead more and more something which just flows through the time. It feels like it could have been that movie all along, I will say, but I'm not surprised to more enjoy verite impulses and I'm loath to hold that against the movie too much. How vividly expressive it can get once it's there, anyway, is worth the time spent on the way.
Any real complaints I have are ultimately kinda nitpicky things that add up to more as a whole; I wish that the movie had had a little more time for the rest of the family, especially the mother, there's a moment when the game is shown at a PAX and I think the movie was like one or two steps short of making something really fascinating about the difference between something like this designed with a heart and any given AAA violence-filled hooliganry, things of that nature. Little touches that would have made this one of the documentaries I'd hold dear forever. But I will say, I've seen many a weepy documentary recently and this is the first one in quite a while where I teared up, and that's not for nothing.
★★★★★ review by Mary Lou Christine Declines on Letterboxd
This is movie made me realize that a child's laughter can make my heart smile and break it at the same time. I am amazed at how brave and strong this family is. I'm still bawling my eyes out... ten minutes after the credits rolled.
★★★½ review by Adam Patterson on Letterboxd
This was a bit of a bittersweet film for me. On one hand it absolutely wrecked me emotionally, but on the other it explored a side of video games that far too many people don't see, cementing it as a legitimate art form.
★★★½ review by Simon Abrams on Letterboxd
Does a fine job of showing you the layers to one parent's response when he channels his grief into his art. More soon in my Village Voice cap.
★★★★ review by Michael on Letterboxd
If you haven't already, I wholly recommend playing That Dragon Cancer, it's the most emotional game I've ever played and it's a real journey. I watched this documentary due to wanting to know more about Ryan and his development process of the game.
Play through the game, and then watch this.
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