The Vanishing Line

Directed by Maren Grainger-Monsen, M.D.

52 minutes / Color
Release: 1998
Copyright: 1998

When does life become a fate worse than death? In this age of medical "miracles," an increasing number of doctors, patients and their families are being forced to deal with this troubling, complex and universal question. THE VANISHING LINE, a contemplative, personal film by physician/filmmaker Maren Monsen, explores the timeless implications of this modern medical dilemma.

Combining poetic imagery, clear-eyed documentary footage, and soul-searching commentary, Monsen evokes a provocative vocabulary for her exploration of death. Dramatic action sequences of emergency-room resuscitations are woven with a rich tapestry of images that includes three women in Greek chitons spinning the thread of life, a potent visual reminder that no matter how advanced medical technology becomes, life and death remain essentially beyond our control.

Monsen also follows Jim Brigham, a hospice social worker,as he visits the homes of some of his terminally ill clients. All are laying the groundwork for their imminent deaths, negotiating in advance whether or not they want to be resuscitated, what comfort measures will be taken, and whether to go to a hospital or die at home. Brigham shares the story of his wife Cay's prolonged death from multiple sclerosis in 1986, and explains how that experience profoundly affected the way he views the end of life: "This act of dying, of completing one's life, does not have to be a terrible and horrible thing," he says.

"I hope that after seeing this film, people will look at death in a different way," says Monsen. "I think that by putting an emphasis on the length of life and postponing death at all costs, people really lose the idea of having a good death, which I think is something very important. We talk about quality of life, yet never quality of death."

THE VANISHING LINE chronicles one physician's exploration of how to try and meet the needs of the dying and their families and looks at the choices and concerns involved in treating what has no cure with the right balance of technology, compassion and care.

"Inspiring!"—The Seattle Times

"Highly Recommended! Viewers will be prompted to weigh both sides of this difficult issue. For academic health science collections, social work programs and hospice programs."—Educational Media Reviews Online

"Marries the clear-eyed directedness of science to the raw honesty and fluid visual vocabulary of the arts."—Philadelphia Weekly

"A highly articulate documentary! Creates a vivid and illuminating revelation of how those who are dying might be better served."—The Hollywood Reporter

"Compelling! Maren Monsen brings a unique perspective to this polished production."—Booklist

Other Ways to Watch

Colleges, Universities, Government Agencies, Hospitals, and Corporations

Purchase DVD for $225.00

Available for educational streaming from:


A film by Maren Grainger-Monsen, M.D.

Select Accolades

  • Education Program of the Year Award, National Hospice Organization, 1998
  • Award of Excellence, Nashville Independent Film Festival, 1998


Blends humor, music and insight in an entertaining primer for physicians and other healthcare providers who need to talk with patients about end-of-life decisions.

Maren Grainger-Monsen, M.D. | 1996 | 25 minutes | Color | English

A devout Muslim immigrant faces possible death from stomach cancer but cultural and linguistic confusions complicate his treatment in an American hospital.

Maren Grainger-Monsen, M.D. and Julia Haslett | 2006 | 58 minutes | Color | English

RARE follows an extraordinary mother in a race against time to find a treatment for her daughter's rare genetic disease.

Maren Grainger-Monsen, M.D. and Nicole Newnham | 2014 | 56 minutes | Color

A series on cross-cultural healthcare. Four films raise awareness about how cultural barriers affect patient-provider communication and other aspects of care for patients of diverse backgrounds.

Maren Grainger-Monsen, M.D. and Julia Haslett | 2003 | 47 minutes | Color | English