I don’t remember what we were watching, but at one point, while watching TV, my roommate and I started talking about patriotism in Canada. By our perception, national pride in the United States is the rule, rather than the exception. Except on Canada Day, it’s rare to hear or see people in a way that we would describe as “patriotic.” The way I saw it, Canadians are comfortable enough in their lives that they don’t really question or exalt anyone for it. Then I saw One Week and I realized that there are some people out there who really really really like Canada. And, sometimes, they take the time to make a movie about a guy who finds out that he has cancer and decides that, rather than dealing with it in the traditional way, he is going to go on a journey of self-explorations, heading west across Canada on a motorcycle.
The best thing about this movie (even better than the sudden bursts of hilarious, dark comedy) is its honesty. Browsing Rotten Tomatoes, Patrick Z. McGavin’s review has been (likely unfairly) abbreviated to describe One Week as “Another dispiriting example of a director using sickness and physical deterioration in rationalising dishonest and narcissistic behaviour.” While I don’t specifically disagree with the statement, I can’t help but feel like McGavin and I saw Ben (played by Joshua Jackson)’s sickness and response quite a bit differently.
Yes, Ben treats his fiancée unfairly in running away from his settled-down life while he figures out what to do with the rest of what may be a very short time on Earth. Yes, some of his decisions fly in the face of what is expected of someone in a committed relationship. But, on the other hand, neither Ben nor the film ever ask your forgiveness for these actions, they simply present the choices that he has made and leave you, like the fiancée, to figure out how you feel about it.
When Ben sleeps with the woman in the forest, he does so because he wants to. He wants to experience whatever is in front of him, in order to discover if his suspicions that he has settled into his life are true. When he returns to his hotel, he explains to his recently arrived fiancée what happened, being honest with her in a way that he never had been before. Yes, it is a terrible violation of her trust that he goes outside of their relationship for sexual pleasure and intimacy, but his doing so has allowed him the freedom to recognize that he had no business pursuing and advancing his core relationship the way that he had. Maybe it would have been a kinder, more altruistic thing to maintain the illusion, allowing this incredible (by his own admission) woman to dote on him as he struggled with and likely succumbed to his cancerous fate, but in doing so, he would have been robbing her of months of her life, catering to a holographic relationship, during which she would have undoubtedly been rattled with guilt at the resentment she was feeling toward her new, persistent care-giving life. Ben’s epiphany and honesty may be cruel in their timing, but it is honesty nonetheless.
On the other hand, on top of its Canadiana self-love and “well, what would you do?” truth challenge, One Week also seems to be supplying Ben’s life with a providential importance. As he treks across the country, Ben meets a cast of characters who, by the course of him meeting and interacting with them, go on to find their happily ever afters. It’s possible that the intent was simply to show how people’s encounters and decisions can have a ripple effect, but the tone suggests that these miraculous path-finding moments occur as a result of a cause-and-effect situation. It would seem that because Ben met these people that they are able to find the course of their lives. The only purpose this serves is to imply a righteous rightness to Ben’s journey, ensuring the audience that he is doing what he is supposed to, but in doing so, it detracts from Ben’s own decisions. The whole point is that he is striving out on his own, finding his own life and identity, but here comes some pesky omnipotence taking credit for the whole endeavour. This is supposed to be Ben’s journey, not “God”‘s, so the film could have gone without its quirky, fatalistic footnotes.