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The Leisure Seeker

M: Contains suicide and euthanasia themes, sex scenes and offensive language

Spoiler alert

This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this movie.

About the film

The Leisure Seeker is a film based on the novel of the same name by Michael Zadoorian. An elderly Ella and John Spencer take one final ill-advised journey in their beloved RV – The Leisure Seeker.

John is a stuffy retired English teacher who has moderately severe dementia and needs the constant supervision of Ella, his wife of over 40 years. Ella, who is simple and sweet, has decided to end her cancer treatment knowing that John will be unable to care for himself when she is gone. Together, they escape their adult children who fret about them back at home whilst they relive fond old memories and explore long-held frustrations on their road trip to the home of Ernest Hemingway in the Florida Keys.

Theatrical poster for The Leisure Seeker

Date registered: 27/04/2018

Classification criteria: Suicide/Euthanasia

The most notable classifiable content in this film is the depiction of suicide. As her final act, Ella euthanises John, and commits suicide, by way of carbon monoxide asphyxiation in their RV. This has been her intention all along. The whole sequence is brief and the only aspects that could be considered romanticised is that they die together and the poignant suicide note she writes to her children. The rationale for Ella’s decision is evident from the beginning so the act itself is not shocking or surprising.

Ella’s action can be considered euthanasia as they both have terminal conditions. If the film is read in this way, there are positive and negative aspects in the depiction. On the positive side, Ella has chosen to end treatment of her own free will. Her bouts of pain, consumption of analgesia, and occasional vomiting serve to highlight her ill health. Towards the end of the film several doctors confirm that her cancer is advanced and are surprised that she is still alive. The decision to take her own life in a dignified manner on her own terms can be considered entirely justifiable, given that she is of sound mind and in the last stages of an incurable disease.

On the more problematic side is Ella’s decision to euthanise John. The film makes it clear that he is incapable of looking after himself without her, and the possibility of going into care is explored only in so far as showing care homes in a less than favourable light. The key justification for Ella’s decision is presented in one of John’s more lucid moments. Unfortunately, he also appears to be quietly devastated that he cannot remember certain events in his life at the same time. John asks Ella to put a gun in his hand and place his finger in the trigger should his dementia become more advanced. Whether this brief lucid moment that is clouded by his despair can be relied upon to accurately reflect his wishes can be debated – although, if anyone would have an intuitive understanding of John’s wishes it would be Ella.

Characters from the Leisure Seeker sitting at a table with some mason jars of drink in front of them

Decision Summary

The Leisure Seeker is a film that covers several themes including love, aging, terminal illness, dementia and suicide. It is unlikely that the filmmakers intended the film to be interpreted as a deep contemplation of euthanasia – it presents as a story of love and devotion and does not explore any legal or ethical issues relating to euthanasia. However, given the topical nature of euthanasia in New Zealand at the present time the film may well add to the debate on the issue. Any potential harm with regards to the depiction of suicide (or euthanasia) in this film is likely to relate to older adults who are in similar situations to the characters, rather than young people, given the context. Although the film can be interpreted as endorsing euthanasia, this is not a consideration of the Films, Videos and Publications Act which is concerned only with harm to younger viewers. The film is unlikely to appeal to young audiences given its leisurely pace and themes. The descriptive note highlights the sensitive themes of suicide and euthanasia and will serve as a warning to potential viewers of all ages. Other classifiable matters such as sex, violence and offensive language are dealt with in such a limited way that they are unlikely to be injurious to the public good. The film was therefore classified as unrestricted with a recommendation that it is more suitable for mature audiences.

Contact the Information Unit if you require further information on a classification decision.

M label
M: Contains suicide and euthanasia themes, sex scenes and offensive language.