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Living well while dying

(Disney+)

Movie

Living well while dying

Clouds traces a teen’s journey with terminal cancer

What sounds depressing—a teen’s diagnosis with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer—became the impetus for an inspiring new PG-13 movie from Disney+. 

Clouds tells the heartbreaking and joy-filled true story of Zach Sobiech and the remarkable events springing from his terminal disease. Based on his mom Laura’s memoirs, the two-hour film radiates realities and love of close family and friends in a small Minnesota town and shows the potency and purview of Zach’s music. His song “Clouds” became a global sensation.

Zach’s music dreams take off after he considers his purpose for living. His teacher, Mr. Weaver, sounding for a moment like John Piper, tells students writing college entrance essays, “You have one life to live. What are you gonna do with it?” 

In his Stillwater High School foyer, Zach gazes up at the wall motto, “We learn not for school but for life.” His mom says, “Maybe this [cancer] is some kind of weird chance … to forget about all the superficial stuff. … You get to decide what matters most.” 

Prior to these scenes, Zach performs a questionable song in his school talent show, but hang in there. Soon, he and Sammy, a girl who’s been his best friend since childhood, start writing and singing uplifting songs. Eleven of their compositions play throughout the film.

Actor Fin Argus, portraying Zach, depicts well the rawness of living with cancer—ruthlessly brushing his teeth after chemo sickens him, stroking his bald pate as he stares in the mirror silently contemplating what’s happening to him, later shaking uncontrollably from the disease’s progression. He evokes Zach’s warmth and humor bantering with three siblings around the dinner table and his genuine amazement when “Clouds” becomes a viral phenom.

We see Zach’s burgeoning relationship with girlfriend Amy. They daydream about having a horse, or maybe a daughter someday, and kiss. Disney throws in some teenage groping. Zach’s parents work through marital tension as they focus on him, support the family, and prepare for loss. Actress Neve Campbell characterizes Zach’s mom with the right mix of encouragement, levity, and sorrow.

In her book, Laura highlights God’s sovereignty. She tells of Zach’s faith in Christ and talks of the family’s Catholicism. The film doesn’t omit faith but doesn’t focus on it. Background lyrics play: “I’ve asked Jesus to be a fence around me.” Zach mentions the parable of the talents. Crosses hang in the Sobiech home. One scene shows the family traveling to Lourdes in France, praying for a cure, and unlike the book, looking more at Mary than Christ.

Watching Zach’s story about fully living while dying will leave you feeling up and maybe even singing.