YOUR GUIDE TO: Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2002, dir. Lone Scherfig)

9 Aug


“Everybody always loved Wilbur” 

For those that love:

Off-beat – and at times, quite dark – humour, anti-feel good films that bring equal parts tears and smiles

For those that are writing on:

Mental illness, suicide, black comedy, masculinity in crisis, the representation and construction of family, mise en scene, art direction

In a nutshell

Suicide as a way of life; certainly no laughing matter, but this quirky British gem manages to put a refreshing and believable spin on the ‘disillusioned loser learns to appreciate life again’ tale.


Despite several unsuccessful attempts, Wilbur (Jamie Sives) still wants to kill himself, much to the dismay of his long-suffering and impossibly good natured brother Harper (Adrian Rawlins). However, when Harper marries single mother Alice (Shirley Henderson) and she and her young daughter come to live with the brothers in their recently inherited bookshop, Wilbur is forced to confront the possibility of a life worth living.

Why should I watch?

Self-destructive and seemingly hopeless, Wilbur is the archetypal anti-hero. His initial disregard for almost everybody around him, and his determination to – as the title suggests – kill himself should make him an entirely unlikable character. However, Sives delivers a winning performance here, instilling Wilbur with an inexplicable charisma that draws in not only those around him, but the audience as well.

The genuinely funny moments peppered throughout this film produce an easy kind of laughter, that feels neither uncomfortable nor desperately essential, despite the serious nature of the subject matter at hand.

Thanks to strong lead and supporting performances that are both subtle and engaging, by the films end each characters personal story arc feels genuine and affecting. 

Beautifully shot, at times Wilbur’s almost sepia colourings perfectly compliment the modern-day fairy tale feel of the film. A truly enchanting experience.

Consider/Further study etc

  • Consider the characters of Wilbur and Harbour. What similarities do they share? What differences? By the end of the film, in what ways have each of the characters changed? 
  • Again, consider the characters of Wilbur and Harbour. How is death and suicide represented in relation to each of these characters?
  • Wilbur undoubtedly deals with a dark subject matter, often in a humorous manner. Is it ever appropriate to treat such subjects with a comic effect? Why is humour used to investigate dark subject matter?
  • What does the art direction suggest about the setting of Wilbur

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