Not many 13-year-olds will have to make "right to die" decisions, but that's the theme of "Never Say Goodbye," the somber "CBS Schoolbreak Special" airing today at 3 p.m. (Channels 2 and 8).
The dice are loaded in this well-made Christian Broadcasting Network production. George Lefferts' teleplay allows no ambiguities: Mo Donovan (June Lockhart) has a massive stroke with irreversible damage--she's pronounced brain-dead. Machines are keeping her alive, but there's no hope of recovery, the doctors all agree.
Mo's granddaughter, Emma (Kim Hauser), a lonely adolescent who adores her, refuses to believe Mo won't recover and she says no when Mom and Dad (Elinor Donahue and Joseph Lambie) want to authorize turning off the machines.
Meanwhile, the anguished family's savings are vanishing and Mo's home must be sold to pay for her care. Emma has some serious thinking to do about her own needs and the needs of her family.
Producer and director Susan Rohrer, who co-wrote the story with Lefferts upon which the film is based, leaves no doubt about which way Emma will go.
Reading Mo's diary, Emma is made aware of how firmly Mo believes that she and her late husband will be reunited in heaven. And, Emma remembers what Mo said about the wounded bird they were tending: "When you love something, you have to be willing to set it free."
When Emma confronts Dad with her doubts, asking if it isn't playing God to make life or death decisions, he answers, "Do you mean when we turn the machines off--or when we turn them on?"
Heavy artillery, indeed.
What makes this film, with its moral and religious overtones, so potent is exquisite camera work--it was shot in a beautiful Virginia setting--and strong and subtle performances delivered by Rohrer's fine cast.
Before the stroke, Lockhart's Mo glows with life, a vital, humorous self-sufficient woman who offers her granddaughter understanding and companionship. Lambie and Donahue offer the right mix of grief and love, while Pam Lindner, as the older daughter, does a good job conveying her own confused emotions: grief, guilt, warmth and a certain selfishness.
Hauser handles her difficult role with delicacy--she's convincing as a budding young poet, and as a sensitive adolescent, trying to come to terms with changes both inside and outside of herself.