The main character is a 12-year-old leukemia patient named Sam. There is no question whether he will die at the end. Yet the boy regards his terminal condition as a challenge rather than a curse. He throws himself into his studies and friendships, and makes a point to explore all of his curiosities about life. Admirably, few of his wants are materialistic in nature or even all that rare. The point, we quickly realize, isn't whether one lives a life that's "better" than other people's, but whether it's meaningful to him.
That's a sophisticated message for any movie, kid-friendly or otherwise. When I served on the live-action features jury for the Children's Film Festival over the summer, my colleagues—most of them educators—and I agreed unanimously that it was the most impressive movie we previewed. In judging the films, we were asked to consider each work's commitment to encouraging creative thought and teaching human values. Ways to Live Forever succeeds in both departments, which makes the film a worthwhile experience even if you don't have kids. By addressing death (or, more to the point, what makes life worth living) as though the viewer hasn't spent much time thinking about it, the movie made my fellow jurors and I reassess our own feelings on the subject. Our postfilm conversation ended up covering a lot more than movies.