Director Penny Lane always chooses interesting subjects. She profiled Kenny G last year. Lane made waves by shining a light on the church of Satan. Yet Confessions of a Good Samaritan finds her most intriguing subject yet: herself. Documenting her choice to give up her kidney to an unknown recipient, Lane wonders why we would put our lives on the line for others. Is the process worth the struggle after all?
Today, we have far too many people who need a kidney. Yet, despite many of us having an extra organ, there is never enough for those who will die without a transplant. As Lane examines her own journey to deliver her kidney to someone in need, she has doctors explain the process. She has others go further, looking at her brain to see why she’s putting her own life at risk.
Lane’s process of self-documentation may find critics. After all, filming oneself as one performs a good deed seems like the antithesis of altruism. Are you truly performing an act for good if personal gain is possible? Yet her willingness to put her vulnerabilities on camera speaks to her self-awareness. From the get-go, she acknowledges her hesitations. Even more importantly, she checks in throughout the process, showing that the choice is not a simple one. This is a very difficult process on the mind. Not everyone will be equipped to put their body through that stress. This allows Confessions of a Good Samaritan to serve as a companion piece to her altruistic journey.
The documentary creatively frames its narrative as it develops. Not only does it feature Lane and other altruistic donor confessionals, but it pries into the process. It makes sense that not everyone can donate a kidney, yet the check-ins and frustrations can feel overwhelming. Lane’s peek behind the curtain hammers home the truth: even if you are willing to donate, it may not work out. The honesty that Lane shows about the process helps us connect to her struggle and the struggles of all who donate.
The film explores the history of transplants in depth. Despite how we view the process now, there was once moral and civic outrage. Ethics and philosophies went to war with each other. The process of donation has always created large repercussions for ethics and medical scholars. Seeing that juxtaposed with Lane’s personal struggle illuminates the true value of the discussion. Lane seems hopeful that her donation will motivate more to do the same, but she lets all the facts and ideas percolate within the film.
There’s certainly a ton to admire about Confessions of a Good Samaritan, even beyond its subject. The choice by Lane to bare her vulnerabilities on camera does a lot to assuage any feelings that she’s only donating for selfish reasons. At times, too much of Confessions feels a little too sanitized. Despite this, it quickly emerges as one of the more intriguing documentaries of 2023.