Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself

2002, R, 109 min. Directed by Lone Scherfig. Starring Jamie Sives, Adrian Rawlins, Shirley Henderson, Lisa McKinlay, Mads Mikkelsen, Julia Davis, Susan Vidler.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 30, 2004

The title minces no words, and neither does Wilbur (Sives), who can’t even wait for the opening credits to unspool before he’s downed several bottles of prescription pills and cranked the oven on high. We quickly learn this isn’t Wilbur’s first stab at suicide, and it won’t be his last. But what takes longer to sink in about this Scottish/Danish co-production is that its darkly humorous hook is just that – a hook – and that the real pull of the piece is in its tender affirmation of life in the face, always, of death. No concrete reasons are ever given for Wilbur’s all-consuming (if comic) death wish, although it’s clear his life has never been a cakewalk. A working-class, twentysomething Glasgwegian, Wilbur lost his mother when he was 5, and his father more recently; his one lifeline is his mild-mannered older brother, Harbour (Rawlins), who is valiantly trying to keep the family bookstore afloat while keeping tabs on every sharp object in Wilbur’s sights. The family dynamic shifts when Harbour meets and quickly marries single mother Alice (Henderson), who introduces herself to Wilbur by foiling another of his suicide attempts. (Lisa McKinlay, as Alice’s young daughter, is the fourth leg in Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself’s astonishingly good quartet of leads.) Director/co-writer Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners) and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen (a frequent Dogme contributor) take their time with the piece, never stooping to sell their sometimes off-putting characters or to over-explain their increasingly complicated relationships. The film moves so subtly, in fact, and so seamlessly between wry humor and the emotional wreckage of life-or-death, that it was with some shock that I found myself weeping halfway through the film. (Chalk that up in part to Joachim Holbek’s lovely, strings-heavy orchestrations that could have been piped in from a Douglas Sirk melodrama.) Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself inches perhaps too close to sentimentality in its final moments – after doggedly resisting the temptation to ingratiate itself with the audience, the film suddenly wants to make everyone happy, characters and audience alike. But by then the four leads have burrowed their way so fully into the heart, we’d really rather they, and we, be happy, too.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Lone Scherfig Films
Their Finest
How to make a propaganda film in World War II England

Marjorie Baumgarten, April 14, 2017

One Day
This gimmicky romantic drama charts 20 years of one British couple's ups and downs in one-day blips.

Kimberley Jones, Aug. 19, 2011

More by Kimberley Jones
Hillary Clinton, Anthony Fauci Headline This Year's 100% Virtual Texas Tribune Festival
Hillary Clinton, Anthony Fauci Headline This Year's 100% Virtual Texas Tribune Festival
Programming includes Ted Cruz and Lincoln Project mischiefmakers

Aug. 11, 2020

We Have an Issue: The News Is Always Breaking
We Have an Issue: The News Is Always Breaking
It’s our Back to School issue... but what does “Back to School” even mean in pandemic time?

Aug. 7, 2020


Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, Lone Scherfig, Jamie Sives, Adrian Rawlins, Shirley Henderson, Lisa McKinlay, Mads Mikkelsen, Julia Davis, Susan Vidler

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle