‘Living’ Characters And Themes, Explained: What Is The Meaning Of Rodney’s Mission To Build The Playground?


“Living” is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru,” which took inspiration from Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” It’s directed by Oliver Hermanus, and the screenplay has been adapted by Kazuo Ishiguro. Set in 1953, the movie follows Mr. Rodney Williams, who diligently works at the London County Council. He is surrounded by his colleagues, Miss Margaret Harris, Mr. Middleton, Mr. Rusbridger, Mr. Hart, and the newcomer, Mr. Peter Wakeling. And he lives with his son, Michael, and his daughter-in-law, Fiona. One day, he learns that he is suffering from cancer. That’s when he realizes that he has wasted away his entire life in his office, and that too for nothing. He tries to utilize the time he has the best he can, thereby being judged harshly and then being revered for his contributions to society. Just like the original Japanese film, the remake sheds light on mortality, legacy, and humanity. So, let’s talk about it.

Major Spoilers Ahead

Did Mr. Rodney Williams Actually Love His Work, Or Did He Just Get Used To It?

Rodney was like every other civil servant in existence. He did the things he was supposed to do because that was what he was paid to do, and he wouldn’t do an extra second’s worth of extra work or, you know, actually serve the people who are paying the taxes, which in turn are getting him his salary. Since the nature of his job “celebrated” not doing a lot of work, he perpetuated that habit by making skyscrapers out of files that had requests from the public in them. But that was all the professional stuff that he did. On the personal front, Williams hardly existed. He evidently didn’t spend too much time with his family. You can say that he was depressed after the passing of his wife.

Since he thought that he had conducted his responsibilities as a father as traditionally as possible, he didn’t feel the need to maintain his bond with Michael anymore because that was Fiona’s duty now. Hence his son came off as a person looking for directions from an assertive person, while Rodney came off as a father who couldn’t confide in his son about his deadly illness. So, with nothing to look forward to on the personal front (apart from movie nights, maybe), all Rodney had was his work. He had some sort of reverence there, and he probably mistook that for relevance. However, his absence hardly had any impact on the way things functioned, which underscored the fact that Rodney had dedicated his entire life and energy to a job that didn’t need it.

What Kind Of Change Did Miss Margaret Harris Bring About In Mr. Williams?

After finding out that he was about to die, Williams went to the most depraved end of the moral spectrum by indulging in drinking and watching raunchy performances. But that backfired almost instantly because it was too much, too late. If you haven’t done anything all your life, trying to take it all in at once will always elicit that kind of reaction. However, after coming across Miss Harris and spending an entire day with her, he initially realized that he hadn’t been as joyful as her, ever. He observed that Harris had a way of lighting up the room, making things interesting, and having a generally positive perspective on life. She wasn’t as affluent as him, yet she managed to keep things upbeat.

It was during that conversation that Harris’ child-like energy got Williams thinking about how, as a kid, he wouldn’t use to play or engage in any kind of extracurricular activities. And he was afraid that that habit had now metastasized to such an extent that he was doing the same as an adult. Maybe that was why he was neglecting the pleas of the three women who wanted to make a playground for children. So, in a roundabout way, Harris inspired Williams to do one last thing that he’d be remembered for, i.e., greenlight the plans for building a playground that was stuck in limbo. He wanted to ensure that his legacy was synonymous with something productive, thereby making him stand out from the rest of the crowd that was essentially harassing the public by making them go in circles.

How Did Mr. Peter Wakeling Realize That Mr. Williams’ Death Had No Impact On His Colleagues?

While battling cancer, Williams erected the playground and spent his dying moments there, singing his favorite song, “The Rowan Tree.” After his death, Middleton, Rusbridger, Hart, and Wakeling discussed all the changes they had observed during this period. He apparently forced Talbot, the man in charge of planning, to do his bidding instead of allowing him to avoid his responsibilities, like Talbot usually did when he was approached by the commoners. He thanked the members of yet another department as a sign of gratitude. He even stood up to Sir James, someone he usually bowed down to when he crossed him in the hallway. And all of them appreciated the fact that he did all this without revealing the kind of pain he was in. So, based on that, the four men pledged to never repeat their passive-aggressive way of working and make sure that they continued the example Williams had set. However, as soon as Middleton took Williams’ position, he became what he promised not to be, with the rest of the staff refusing to protest his behavior.

This ending of “Living” illustrates the universal notion that government employees or civil servants will never grow a spine. They will never work for the people, even though they are indebted to them. They have no skills outside of placing one document on another, and if they are out of a job, they are as useless as they come. They have no intention of learning anything new because that’s how sure they are about the permanence of their position. They are so thick-skinned that protests, abuse, or criticism won’t hurt them. Only something as final as mortality will probably awaken them as it did with Mr. Rodney Williams. But the thing is that one’s situation doesn’t have to be that dire in order to understand the importance of life and the influence you can have on the people around you. Waking up to the infinite possibilities you can capitalize on should occur to people much more easily. There’s no point in thinking when you are going to die. You can die when you are 100 years old, or you can die in your 20s. What matters is that when you face death, you shouldn’t have any regrets. And your sense of satisfaction doesn’t have to be linked to achieving something monumental. You can feel gratified by being a good person who reciprocates the love people have for you and helps those who are in need of it.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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