In the world of Lana Wilson's patient, observant documentary, The Departure signifies a journey to the end of life. Ittetsu Nemoto, a Japanese Zen monk dedicated to suicide prevention, gives the despondent a glimpse of it by getting them to acknowledge the things that they'll leave behind. In a way, though, his strength—his empathy—is also his weakness. "I take on so much of their suffering," he says, "when I'm counseling." Though he has what looks like a happy home life with his wife and toddler son, the calls (as many as 50 a day), visits, and retreats take a toll on his heart.
The patient tone of the film, reinforced by Nathan Michel's subtle score, subsides whenever he dances to techno, a callback to his past as a long-haired hedonist (and also the realization of Bobby Bare Jr.'s song "The Monk at the Disco"). As a filmmaker, Wilson must have a similar knack for putting people at ease since it's quite remarkable how many of those in her film agreed to appear in such a vulnerable state. Nemoto and George Tiller, the inspiration behind her previous documentary, After Tiller, complement each other in terms of the work they do and the sacrifices they've made. Tiller, who performed late-term abortions, died at the hands of a born-again Christian, while Nemoto intends to attend to the psychic needs of those under his care—even if it kills him.