Living: Is it a True Story? Is Rodney Williams a Real Person?

‘Living’ is a 2022 drama film directed by Oliver Hermanus that urges the viewers to confront their relationship with life and mortality. The film, set in London in the 1950s, follows Mr. Rodney Williams, a monotonous bureaucrat who is the picture of a classic English Gentleman. However, after a terminal medical diagnosis, Williams realizes he has allowed life to pass him by. As such, Williams embarks on a quest for meaning and contentment with the assistance of a cheerful young woman, Margaret Harris.

Featuring an Oscar-nominated performance by Bill Nighy as its lead, ‘Living’ presents a heartfelt story about regret, last chances, and late-stage capitalism. The film depicts an inspiring tale about a mundane life. In doing so, it delves into topics of life’s impermanence through the lens of inefficient bureaucracy. Due to the universally relatable subject of the film, and its historical setting, viewers might wonder about if Rodney Williams is based on a real person.  Therefore, here is everything we know about him and the origin of ‘Living.’

Living is Adapted from Kurosawa’s Ikiru

‘Living’ is a British adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 Japanese film, ‘Ikiru.’ Kurosawa’s film depicts a similar tale of a bureaucrat, Kanji Watanabe, who seeks to bring meaning to his life after a cancer diagnosis. Both films charter homogenous plotlines and feature comparable characters.

‘Ikiru’ significantly influenced ‘Living’s’ writer, Kazuo Ishiguro, in his youth. “Ikiru seemed to have a different message. It seemed to say it’s alright if you have a small life and you’re a small person— you can still live your life to the full. It won’t be easy, but there’s a way. You have to really do your best, but you can make it something really worthwhile.” Ishiguro said in an interview while discussing his film. He added, expanding on the film’s meaning for him, “You have to find a very lonely sense of triumph. And I found it very inspiring, and I think a lot of my generation found it very inspiring.”

As such, the decision to base ‘Living’ on ‘Ikiru’ came from a personal place for screenwriter Ishiguro. Still, regardless of the several similarities between the two films, ‘Living’ brings its own touch to the story, primarily through its setting in England. When writing the screenplay for this film, Nobel prize-winning author Ishiguro recreated ‘Ikiru’s’ story from an intentional English perspective.

Ishiguro has previously explored similar themes of an Englishman’s regret over an unfulfilled life in his critically acclaimed novel ‘The Remains Of The Day.’ According to Ishiguro, “If you explore this kind of Englishness that existed in that time, which disappeared in the 1960s. You’re examining something universal about human nature, and it’s got something to do with the way of facing up to the fear of emotions.”

As such, by employing an English perspective, Ishiguro conveys delicate human emotions surrounding death and the dying in an incredibly personal and relatable manner. Likewise, it also brings a culturally unique English outlook on life. “When I first proposed the idea to Stephen Woolley, the producer, I didn’t say why don’t you make a movie that’s a remake of ‘Ikiru,'” Said Ishiguro. “I said what about a film based on ‘Ikiru’ with Bill Nighy in the main part? And it should also look like a British film that was made somewhere between 1938 and 1948. This is how we started.”

Therefore, Ishiguro’s faith in Nighy’s ability to personify the same melancholy depicted in ‘Ikiru’ paved the way for the inception of ‘Living.’ Mr. Rodney Williams embodies an integral part of the film’s narrative. In order to garner the audience’s empathy, the film heavily relies upon Williams’ and his relatability with the audience. Throughout the film, we accompany Williams as he looks for meaning in his rapidly ending life.

After failed defeatist and hedonistic approaches, Williams realizes the contentment he strives for lies within companionship and legacy. Williams yearns to leave the world a little better than he had found it. Many viewers might relate to this profound aspect of Williams and form a deep connection with him. As such, the story feels more relatable and authentic due to the intricate realism coloring Williams’ character.

Lastly, ‘Ikiru’ was inspired by ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich,’ an 1886 Leo Tolstoy novella. Although ‘Living’ doesn’t directly parallel the novella, it has intrinsic ties to the same. As such, it shares some of the themes explored in Tolstyo’s novel about the meaning of life and death. Ultimately, ‘Living’ is not based on a true story. However, the themes explored in the film are interweaved with the human condition. As such, it’s deeply rooted in the mundane reality of life.

Read More: Where Was Living (2022) Filmed?