Imagine having to prepare for your own death knowing that each day could be your last. This is what Ethan Rice has had to live with all of his life. Born with cystic fibrosis, Ethan and his family have been told he only had a short time to live since he was 3-years-old. Now at 28, Ethan faces the limits of his mortality with the same creativity and dark sense of humor that has gotten him to this point.

The notion of watching what might possibly be a person’s final days may not sound like an enticing proposition, however, Cameron Mullenneaux’s Exit Music is as much a celebration of life and family as it is a meditation on death. Motivated by his love of stop-motion animation and music, the film intertwines Ethan’s artistic passions with his health complications and the overall impact on his family.

One of the film’s many strengths is the way it makes the viewer feel as if they have known Ethan for years. There is a warmth and familiarity with the charismatic young man that is undeniable. His fear that a rough night might signal the end become our fears as well.

While Mullenneaux includes moments with Ethan’s mother and brother, it Ethan’s father who provides the film with some of its most touching moments. A Vietnam vet with PTSD, the stay-at-home dad plays a key role in not only his son’s care, but also inspiring Ethan to find things to live for. Their relationship makes the inevitable fate of Ethan even more heartbreaking.

There is a powerful beauty to the sadness in Exit Music that lingers with viewers. In a strange way it is a film about death that ultimately gives the audience life. The film is a reminder that those with illnesses are people first, and should not be defined by their ailments. It also reinforces the importance of having people who will truly be by our side in the good and bad times. Exit Music is a lyrical portrait of hope and inspiration. It provides us with warmth and light even when we know that the darkness of death will fall upon us all one day.

Saturday, May 5, 5:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox