Given how emotionally charged the moral issue of euthanasia is, it’s not surprising that the subject is often left to documentary films rather than the realms of the psychological thriller. But Argentinian filmmaker Martín Kraut, who makes his feature film debut as director with La Dosis (The Dose), has taken inspiration from many real-world reports of doctors and nurses across the world who have admitted to having taken the power of life and death into their own hands – with casualties reaching the dozens in some cases.
It’s a complex moral issue still searching for resolution across the globe, even in this day and age. With La Dosis, Kraut explores the depths of these troubled waters through the eyes of Marcos, an affectionate and dedicated nurse who takes advantage of his position to ease the suffering of his most afflicted patients.
Marcos is an experienced nurse who works the night shift of a private clinic. He is successful and professional, though it is soon revealed that he uses his position to help suffering patients find early peace. A new nurse in the clinic, Gabriel, shakes the sector: he is young, intelligent, beautiful, and seduces everyone. He soon deciphers Marcos’ secret and the clinic becomes a battle of wits and seduction. Marcos retracts until he discovers that Gabriel also dabbles in euthanasia, though for different reasons. This revelation forces him to confront Gabriel and Marcos knows that only by exposing his own true identity will he be able to stop him.
I spoke with Martín about his research into the medical and legal perspectives of euthanasia, how he navigated depicting the subject through the film’s troubled characters and the long journey from script to screen.
It’s refreshing to see a film that tries to capture the breadth of the moral issues surrounding euthanasia, but packaged into something that’s psychologically thrilling and challenging too.
Something that really struck me right off the bat in La Dosis was the idea of dignity and viewing patients not as bodies, but as people. I’d love to know what your personal experience is with hospitals and that environment amongst the unwell, and whether that fed into the way you went about writing these characters.
Martín: Well, I’m very glad you liked the film and that you felt that way. The subject of euthanasia is very personal for me, because for example, my father is a lawyer and he wrote a lot of books about the rights of patients and the responsibility of doctors. Some of those books are about euthanasia. I didn’t read the books [laughs] but I grew up talking about these problems, so it was a very interesting subject for me.
For example, my father had to decide about the life of my grandmother, his own mother. Everything that he wrote in his life was not very used; because it’s very different, the law of what you can and what you can’t, when you have to decide something about the life of someone you love. So for me, it was very important to talk about this. Of course, the film takes the point of view of the nurses, which is another very important subject for me because there’s a lot of films and series about the doctors, the doctors, the doctors. I don’t think that the nurses have this important placing in cinema. So for me, it was very important to put them and show how difficult is the life of a nurse and how they have to struggle with a lot of complications. Sometimes, the doctors are the guys that receive the gift and the glory and sometimes the nurses are forgotten. So for me, it was a key question here to rescue the importance of the nurses.
My own mother was a nurse for about twenty-five years, typically dealing with the elderly and the very ill, so I would love for her to watch this film. I’m sure it would remind her of dealing with the very complicated and emotionally difficult job of nursing – it’s not only physically exhausting, but there is such an emotional aspect to it.
I enjoy Marcos as a character in particular, because he is so affectionate and caring for his patients. But his approach to the concept of euthanasia is, of course, questionable; a moral grey area. And of course, when we’re introduced to Gabriel, who has his own approach to euthanasia, things become very complicated.
I found that very interesting while taking notes as I watched the film, because I was never quite confident in putting Marcos or Gabriel down as the clear protagonist or antagonist. They both approach the same issue with very different reasons behind them. When you were writing these characters, was it always clear to you that they were ultimately going to be two sides of a similar coin?
Martín: Yeah, from that very first time that I had this real story that inspired me, it was very interesting. I heard a lot of other stories about one nurse applying euthanasia, but having two in this kind of competition with different motivations to kill patients, in a way. It was very interesting to me that if you take Marcos, you can say that he is a pitiful guy; he does this mercy decision. But as you said, it’s questionable, because you don’t have the law behind you saying that what you’re doing is fine. So it’s interesting for me when some people decide to do what is outside of the law, and when he feels something’s correct, he does it.
For me it was very important that people felt like they had this identification with Marcos. He’s a good guy, he has this little bit of tenderness. You can say that he tries to help their patients. And as you said, the other side of the coin is not the same face as we see here. He (Gabriel) is an extreme view of what Marcos does. I like a psychopathic view of what Marcos does. It was good for me to put Marcos on the edge; someone’s saying, “okay, he’s doing the same that you do, but the motivations are different”. To put Marcos on that edge was very crucial for me.
One of the many reasons that euthanasia is such an unresolved issue across the world is that it’s such a morally complicated issue. And to have these two characters capture these two clashing perspectives on it is so effective, because I think a lot of films dealing with similar moral issues struggle with how to depict the different perspectives without just telling them. Did you find it difficult deciding how to actually depict these two sides?
Martín: One crucial thing of cinema and art is that I don’t like when the artist tells me how to think or what to think. I think that we have to put it on the table, like “this a problem, this is something we have to talk about”. We have to debate and not say, “this is the way we should do it”. Both characters are showing a problem with different approaches. But we don’t have a lot – at least in Argentina – saying what you can do with someone who is dying. They say you have to wait and they have to suffer. So for me, it was very important to say this is a problem. When you don’t have people in Congress taking care of that problem, you will have people taking care of that problem in the dark of an Intensive Care unit. But on the other side, I am not a politician and only trying to say “this is a problem”. For me it was very important to have a good film, a thriller to trap you and have you interested in what is happening. It was very useful to have these two faces and two different styles; this creepy guy who is very silent, and the other a seductive young guy. When I found this real story happening to nurses, we had a guy who was very similar to Marcos, but the other guy was a very bad guy; violent. It was not useful for me in the script to have a bad guy, so it was great to have this nice guy being the opposite to Marcos and sort of seducing him.
I worked on the film for a lot of years, so it was a slow development of these characters. But I’m very happy that in the end, I feel that we achieved a good result. So I’m happy, and I think we’re talking about it because something of what we planned worked, finally.
Absolutely, and I think so much of that is down to the fantastic performances across the board from your cast. Everybody gives what their roles need, from Marcos’ kindness and affection and sympathy for his patients to Gabriel, who isn’t a complete villain but has much more selfish reasons for doing what he does. From his perspective, I think he knows what he’s doing isn’t a good thing, but he’s not trying to be a serial killer. He just thinks his way is the right way. When it came to casting Marcos and Gabriel, was it the result of a casting call and they happened to be the right fit?
Martín: Taking what you were saying before, one of the things that I feel that is very interesting about the doctors and nurses is that they have a different relation with death than we do. They live every day with that. So seeing someone dying is not like for us, which is a tragedy, but a day by day situation. I think it’s interesting to see how these decisions are influenced.
I wrote the film during the five or six years before we took it to a contest, which we won, and it gave us the possibility of doing the film. Then was the moment to think about actors, when I finally realised the film was going to take place. I was searching for this big guy as a real character. Sometimes we think about nurses as big guys, and I felt that he was a giant, but falling down. A tough guy, but inside he is full of doubts.
So it was important for me to find Carlos, who is a great and very important actor here in Argentina. I found him and when we talked for the first time, he said he almost worked as a nurse for one of his brothers who had a very difficult disease and finally died. He told me, “I was the nurse of my brother for a lot of months, a long time ago”. So he saw the film and the shooting as an opportunity to go back to that experience. He was very interested from the first time that we spoke on the phone.
After Carlos, it was very important to find this other side to the coin. Ignacio Rogers is so different, a thin guy, smiley. For me it was great to have these differences, not only in the character of the protagonist but it’s also a physical difference. Maybe you will think that Marcos can crush this little guy in his fingers, but when we talk about what’s happening in their minds, it’s the opposite. It was very interesting to find this contrast between the main characters.
I agree: Marcos is physically intimidating at first, but because of his gentle nature, he’s quite restrained – and as things become more dangerous and complicated in the film, he tries to use his heart more than his body.
Do you have anything coming up on the horizon that you can tell us anything about?
Martín: When I finished shooting this film, my way of dealing with that emptiness was to start writing again. Since 2019 when we shot the film, I started writing a lot. So I cannot say a lot, but as you can see, it’s been a difficult year. I’m writing two different scripts, but I hope that it won’t take so long to do the next. I told the producer, Pablo Chernov, that La Dosis took six to seven years, so the next one won’t be that long, I hope [laughs]
Martín: Yes. So I hope maybe next year or in 2023, I will be shooting the next one. And I hope it’s going to be in North America. I’m very happy that La Dosis has reached the United States and the mecca of cinema.
LA DOSIS will be released on VOD and Digital by Samuel Goldwyn Films on June 11.