Astronomically speaking, a “Pink Moon” is the full moon of spring, appearing in April. The moon itself doesn’t change in color, but it gets its name from blooming phlox, a pinkish flower. Because of the period in which the Pink Moon appears, there’s a religious significance in relation to the Christian holiday of Easter and Jewish holiday of Passover, though its origin as a significant lunar event likely goes back to Native Americans and early Colonial settlers. How this fits into the Bastiaan Kroeger-written, Floor van der Meulen-directed Pink Moon is only thematically as it relates to a period of transition. The major difference here is that spring denotes a period of life returning as it comes out of winter, but van der Meulen’s film centers on a young woman learning that her father has decided to end his life on his next birthday. Here, transition takes the form of acceptance as the celebration of life turns into the long goodbye. Eschewing the expected maudlin approach, Pink Moon is a light affair that treats death and grief with a gentle touch, preserving the humanity at its core.
Joining their father, Jan (Johan Leysen), for their regular dinner today, siblings Iris (Julia Akkermans) and Ivan (Eelco Smits), and Ivan’s wife Elisabeth (Anniek Pheifer), learn that Jan has decided that he’s lived a good life and would like to end it on his 76th birthday. He’s made the preparations, he’s done the research, and he’s ready to let go while he’s still healthy and independent before his health deteriorates and he could become a burden for his family. Ivan and Elisabeth take the news in stride, while Iris struggles with his decision. While minor acts of rebellion don’t achieve changing anyone’s mind, Iris takes things a step further and absconds with her father into the mountains, hoping that she’ll be able to change his mind before it’s too late.
At least in the U.S., there’s a presumption that the examination of death and dying must be explored through a grey lens, that despite so much talk over “going to a better place,” the act of dying is somehow infused with lifelessness in its narrative portrayal. Van der Meulen’s Pink Moon is the Dutch antithesis. It’s not merely the fact that the discussion between father and family (minus the adolescent children) is candid, enabling tension to come from reactions to information versus what’s unknown, it’s that the production design and cinematography maintain a certain exuberance for the majority of the film. Jan’s home, a primary feature of the film, includes a den area with half the walls as windows. The entranceway is a dual set of doors, but both are glass. The floorplans of most of the rooms are open, allowing for bodies and sounds to pass fairly freely. This conveys a sense of energy and vibrancy, a home filled with life, juxtaposed nicely against the occupant’s belief that he’s ready to let go. Shot with a different lens or filter, Pink Moon could look as dour as Requiem for a Dream; instead, cinematographer Emo Weemhoff NSC (XX) neither drains nor enhances the colors of any scene. This translates to lovely composed exchanges between family in Jan’s home, Iris’s working life captured as one that doesn’t drain the soul, and her mountain escape as a place with its own energy and heart. Especially given that the location of the mountain sequence is entirely snow-driven, any scene in this location could be made frigid in color to match the temperature, yet Weemhoff maintains the natural color in order to communicate the beauty that exists in nature’s downward cycle as much as in its rejuvenating one. With these visual and structural design elements in play, the audience is able to process the material of the narrative (the emotional journey of Iris) without being bombarded by additionally negative cues.
What’s fascinating about Pink Moon from an American perspective is how Kroeger’s script skips over the morality issue of what’s known as “careful suicide.” The film isn’t interested in faith (none of the characters bring it up, so it’s an unknown element and is not explored) but is rather most interested in how Iris, possibly the younger sibling of the two, handles her father’s choice. She’s got a stable job working for a company trying to provide water for all peoples and is slated to go to South Africa to give a presentation at a conference before her father’s news and her priorities shift to him. This is everything from trying to help him identify a whole song from a barely remembered tune to moving in entirely with him. As such, the whole of Pink Moon isn’t about someone with their life a mess figuring out how to stand without the support of a parent; refreshingly, it’s more about how to continue to live without the intimacy of a parent-child relationship. Though one might see a few elements of Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief peak their heads out in Akkermans’s performance or Iris’s arc, to make these elements more prominent would make the film too interested in Iris and forgetful of Jan. Instead, the narrative keeps Iris fairly measured and realistic in her growing frustration over the upheaval while also slowly teasing out details to explain Jan’s reasoning in a way that provides satisfactory explanations for the jilted Iris without losing any of Jan’s dignity. This is, perhaps, the most important thing in the whole film: it may be centered on Iris, but it’s still about Jan’s decision, making the handling of his life and medically-assisted death within the film paramount to the success of the cinematic journey.
Given the weighted nature of the narrative, Pink Moon surprises by being a fairly light affair that treats end of life as a right which should be afforded to any who desire it. It does this by presenting Jan as someone who doesn’t mourn his life, wallowing in each day, but who still finds joys in playing with his grandchildren, exercising, or taking a snow bath. Just because he’s decided he’s done doesn’t mean that he has to treat each day like a burden. Similarly, it treats the discomfort or struggling acceptance of such a choice as reasonable as well, not the actions of spoiled or unloving children, but of a natural reaction to the idea of losing a parent. That Kroeger and van der Meulen can achieve such balance in the design and execution of Pink Moon is why it stands out, even if the film as a whole doesn’t always grip. But where it doesn’t grip you, it still finds its way into your heart and mind, like the tune to a song you just can’t figure out.
Screening during the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.
For more information, head to the official Pink Moon Tribeca film page.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.