The common thread to any plot involving death is that you can’t avoid it (unless you’re Dean or Sam Winchester from Supernatural). While most movies portray death as part of the journey of either the protagonist or the antagonist, there are other more creative movies dead-set on letting death take on the role of the main character in a movie. That makes up for some killer stuff!
1. Death as a person (Meet Joe Black)
What happens when death is given a human touch? Meet Joe Black. Joe Black is your quintessential modern day grim reaper, minus the black cloak, sickle and skeletal frame. He has more meat in his bones, if you get my drift. Curious about life after listening to the way William Parrish describes his experiences of it, Death decides to take a holiday to find out what life is all about. He takes over the body of a young man and comes to collect William whose time is apparently up. Death however decides to grant William more time, if William would be Death’s guide for a few days. It’s interesting to see how Death tackles life. Death, who is introduced to everyone as Joe Black, experiences life as a wide-eyed new born human. Well, a new born human with ancient supernatural powers, who develops a fetish for peanut butter. One things for sure, if death came knocking in the form of Brad Pitt, nobody would mind dropping dead.
Some common notions associated with death are beautifully dealt with in Meet Joe Black:
- What is death
How would Death describe himself to you?
William Parrish: Who are you?
Voice: Just think of millenniums multiplied by eons compounded by time without end. I’ve been around that long.
- The premonition of one’s upcoming death
We have often heard of people getting an intuitive feeling of when they are going to die, a short time before they actually hit the bucket. When William experiences chest pains a voice inside his head keeps saying “Yes”. Later on a human Joe Black tells William the answer to his question is yes, the question being the one William asked himself earlier i.e. if he was dying?
William Parrish: Yes what?
Voice: ‘Yes’ is the answer to your question.
William Parrish: What question?
Voice: Oh, Bill. Come on. The question. The question you’ve been asking yourself with increased regularity, at odd moments, panting through the extra game of handball, when you ran for the plane in Delhi, when you sat up in bed last night and hit the floor in the office this morning. The question that is in the back of your throat, choking the blood to your brain, ringing in your ears over and over as you put it to yourself.
William Parrish: The question.
Voice: Yes, Bill. The question.
William Parrish: …Am I going to die?
Joe Black: [appearing from the shadows] Yes.
- How death works
Whether you believe in God being the giver and taker of life, or whether you believe death to be a separate entity, you have always wondered how God/ Death can keep tabs on so many people dying at the same time.
William Parrish: How’s your working going? I mean elsewhere…
Joe Black: While you were shaving this morning, you weren’t just shaving, you weren’t just shaving.
William Parrish: What do you mean?
Joe Black: You were hatching ideas, making plans, arriving at decisions, right?
William Parrish: Yeah, I guess so.
Joe Black: So you understand the concept. While part of you is busy doing one thing, another part of you is doing another, perhaps even attending to the problems of your work. Correct?
William Parrish: Of course.
Joe Black: So you understand the concept, Bill. Now multiply that by infinity, take that to the depths of forever, and you still barely have a glimpse of what I’m talking about.
- The language of death
Since death happens across all cultures, one of the most powerful scenes is when Joe Black immediately speaks to a Jamaican woman in her own language in an attempt to calm her, when she recognizes him as an evil omen. It is symbolic of the fact that death is familiar with all languages, customs, thoughts, mannerism and anything remotely related to the human realm.
Jamaican woman: Obeah.
Joe Black: [Jamaican accent] Rahtid. Obeah evil. I not evil, woman.
Jamaican woman: And what you is then?
Joe Black: I from that next place.
Jamaican woman: You waitin’ here to take us? Like you is the bus driver to there?
Joe Black: No, man, I on ‘oliday.
Jamaican woman: Some spot you pick. [Groans faintly] The pain. Pain is bad, bad.
Joe Black: I don’t have nothin’ to do with these things, you know.
Jamaican woman: Make it go away.
Joe Black: Doctor Lady make it alright.
Jamaican woman: Uh-uh. Not this pain. This pain go through and through me. Make it go away.
Joe Black: I can’t, sister.
Jamaican woman: You can, mister. Take me to that next place.
Joe Black: It’s not your time now.
Jamaican woman: Make it time!
Joe Black: You can’t fool with the way things got to be.
Jamaican woman: [Whimpering] Please…
Joe Black: [Pauses] Close your eyes. Go on, sister. [Puts his hands on her, woman smiles and opens her eyes slowly] Soon.
- Death knows all
What if the whole life-flashing-before-your-eyes-phenomenon is death’s way of recapping the events of your life? It would be obvious then to assume that Death knows everything about a person. Death’s know it all ability is brought out at various instances of Meet Joe Black but the funniest one is when he corners Drew.
Joe Black (to Drew): Perhaps a merger is a way to bring Bill’s company into the 21st century, and perhaps it isn’t. And perhaps cheating on your French philosopher’s exam at the Groton School was an expedient way to get your diploma, and perhaps it wasn’t
Death as an invisible observer & narrator (The Book Thief)
The Book Thief is one for the book lovers. Death plays the role of a narrator telling us the story of Liesel Meminger and her encounter with death and books, where often one seems to be linked to the other. Adopted by Hans and Rosa after the death of her brother and flight of her Communist mother, Liesel does not know how to read. Ironically when Hans teaches her reading, the first book she reads is a grave-diggers manual which she found near her brother’s grave. She develops a deep attachment to books. In the wake of WWII, Hitler bans books in Germany and orders all books to be burnt. Liesel boldly saves a copy which witnessed by the German mayor’s wife Ilsa.
She and Liesel form a sort of attachment and later on Liesel “borrows” books from Ilsa’s library when she visits her house to deliver laundry. Later on Leisel saves another book after a bomb attack destroys her house.
For most part of the movie you always find Leisel rescuing a book, while she indicates in more ways than one, that it’s the books which seem to rescue her.In a sentimental way that only book lovers will appreciate, books have been shown to save lives more than one time in the movie. The first is when Leisel helps Max Vandenburg, a Jewish boy her family is sheltering in the basement, to recover when she reads to him.
And the second is when Leisel is saved from a bomb attack because she fell asleep in the basement, while writing in the journal Max gave her.
In the Book Thief while Death is invisible and uninvolved and does no more than narrate Leisel’s tale, you feel death around you because of historical events taking place as part of WWII.
Getting up close & personal with Death in the Book Thief, these notions of death are put across:
- You cannot meet death before your time
It is believed that the moment you live and the moment you die have been fixed by God/ Destiny. And that you can experience neither life nor death, unless it’s time. So is today a good day to die hard?
Death: I guess I should introduce myself properly. But then again, you’ll meet me soon enough. Not before your time of course. I make it a policy to avoid the living. Well, except sometimes. Once in very long time. I can’t help myself. I get interested”
- Death is inevitable
I like the whole “Death is the next great adventure” theme going on here. That people should not be afraid of death but embrace it like a friend. It’s also really funny to hear Death tell you not to be afraid it of it. Imagine if Death spoke to you and said “I’m warm and cuddly. Come with me, it will be an out-of-this-world-experience!”
“One small fact: you are going to die. Despite every effort, no one lives forever. Sorry to be such a spoiler. My advice is when the time comes, don’t panic. It doesn’t seem to help.”
- With war comes death
It’s the humourous way in which Death describes war that makes war all the more daunting. The loss of life through war and man either causing or bringing about his own death in a history-repeats-itself manner clearly indicates that in most cases, man digs his own grave.
“It’s always been the same, the excitement and rush to war. I’ve met so many young men over the years who have thought they were running at their enemy. When the truth was they were running to me”
“The bombs were coming thicker now. It’s probably fair to say that no-one was able to serve the Fuhrer as loyally as me”
- Life flashing before your eyes
I don’t know whether to be nervous or unmoved by this phenomenon. If I see my life flashing before my eyes I can only pray that the flashes I see are happy memories. When your time is up apparently your life starts flashing before your eyes, in a sequence from your earliest memories to your final one, after which your body is at rest.
Death:In her final thoughts, she saw the long list of lives that merged with hers. Her three children, her grand children, her husband. Among them, lit like lanterns, were Hans and Rosa, her brother, and the boy whose hair remained the color of lemons forever. I wanted to tell the book thief she was one of the few souls that made me wonder what it was to live. But in the end there were no words. Only peace. The only truth I truly know is that I am haunted by humans.
3. Death as a malevolent & inevitable force (Final Destination Series)
I am used to blood and gore on the big screen. I have watched too many horror movies for anything to scare me anymore. While the Final Destination Series do not scare me, they never fail to leave me with that spine-chilling feeling. Death has no physical form but is shown as an invisible force with a malevolent purpose. Imagine something you can’t see trying to kill you in imaginative deadly ways. So far via the Final Destination series we have seen Death’s design via:
1. A plane crash (Final Destination 1)
2. Roadside car crash (Final Destination 2)
3. Roller coaster accident (Final Destination 3)
4. Race-track car crash & stadium collapse (The Final Destination)
5. Suspension bridge collapse (Final Destination 5)
The creepy mortician William Bludworth has appeared in most of the Final Destination movies offering insight into Death and most often, seeming scarier than Death itself.
- You can’t cheat death
According to the series, Death has a design and people die according to it. However whenever Death has set its ticker in a particular manner, one person in the to-die-today group gets a premonition of what is to come and manages to save himself and a few others with him. He and the others manage to cheat the design. However whoever got out of Death’s design begins to die again in the order they were meant to as per the previous design. The one who gets the premonition is normally the last one to go, even when he thinks he has finally evaded Death.
William Bludworth: In death, there are no accidents, no coincidences, no mishaps and no escapes.
Alex Browning: [Explaining about cheating death and it’s design. ] The mortician said that Death has a design. Right? Now, what if you, me, Tod, Carter, Terry, Billy, Ms. Lewton messed up that design. For whatever reason, I, I saw Death’s plan. We cheated him. But what if it was our time? What if we were not meant to get off that plane? What if it still is our time? If it is, then it’s not finished, and we will die – now, not later – unless, unless we find the patterns and cheat It again.
- Rule of life & death
Final Destination 2 & 5 offered a way out for those trying to cheat Death’s Design. FD2 said that new life could shatter Death’s list and force it to start again so the psychic person who gets the premonition (Kimberly) saves the life of a pregnant woman slated to die and when she gives birth, Death’s list becomes invalid and null. Atleast that’s what the surviving members thought. FD5 said that if the survivors took a life they would gain the life-span of the person they killed, sending some of the survivors on a killing spree. In both cases however this was a temporary measure. While life does cancel Death, Death comes back with a more deadly design. In a move that noone saw coming FD5 tied itself to the first movie, making it the prequel of Final Destination 1 and actually the first movie of the entire series. The last surviving members of FD5 die in FD1’s Flight 180.
William Bludworth: “Some say that there is a balance to everything. An equilibrium that is the connective tissue of the universe. They say that for every life there is a death, and for every death a life…The list of life is forever set by the Divine Plan, the guiding hand that plots the course of the universe, down to its tiniest elements. The list accounts for every life; from the dawn of man to the great apocalypse. But the introduction of life that was not meant to be, a soul forbidden to roam the earth, that could invalidate Death’s list, shatter its very existence. Force death to start anew”
Sam Lawton: Are you saying we can’t stop this?
William Bludworth: You were supposed to die on that bridge. You’re not supposed to be here. You shorted death. So you let death have somebody else in your place, and you take their spot in the realm of the living. All the days and years that they have yet to live. And they take your place in death. Then the books are balanced.
Peter Friedkin: Wait a minute. We kill someone, we get their life? Is that what you’re telling me?
William Bludworth: I don’t make the rules. I just clean up… after the game is over.
To end on a dead serious note:
I can’t fathom for the life of me
When the time of my death would be
But when Death finally comes along
Killing me softly with his song
I’ll look Death in the eye cheerfully
And say “I have lived my life completely
So I don’t mind, not really
You (Death) being the death of me”
Book Thief Death (http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ljkrujSYp91qbho3lo1_500.png)
Final Destination Skull (http://wwws.ch.warnerbros.com/finaldestination5/img/skull.jpg )
Joe Black & Peanut Butter (http://images6.fanpop.com/image/photos/34600000/JOE-BLACK-brad-pitt-34619660-1019-765.png)
Death’s 1st appearance as Joe Black (http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-suXCMqkSAzM/T1lJfFCPGFI/AAAAAAAAD-8/vZu52WjzNVM/s1600/MeetJoeBlack_Library4.jpg)
Joe Black and Bill Parrish (http://www.fanpix.net/0656034/011969356/meet-joe-black-1998-large-picture.html)
Liesel and the bookshelf (http://www.listal.com/viewimage/6256128)
Liesel saves the book from burning (http://www.technologytell.com/entertainment/files/2013/11/book-thief-smokin-book.jpg)
Liesel saves book after the bombing (http://www.btchflcks.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/the-book-thief.jpg)
Liesel reading to Max (http://nsrlive.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/book-thief.jpg)
Liesel writing in the basement (http://media.tumblr.com/5586a641cf6ea600b6a829deb0101c66/tumblr_inline_muzxznvR4T1r6v9g9.jpg)
Death of Liesel’s brother (http://www.beritau.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/the-book-thief-train.jpg)
Max & Liesel reunited (http://starf0ol.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/bookthiefmovie2.png)
Final Destination (http://www.mi9.com/wallpaper/final-destination-5_91548/)
Final Destination 1 (http://www.listal.com/viewimage/1144552)
Final Destination 3 (http://www.impawards.com/2006/final_destination_three_xlg.html)
Final Destination 5 (http://wfiles.brothersoft.com/f/final-destination-5-poster_91717-1024×768.jpg)
William Bludworth, Alex Browning & Clear Rivers (http://ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BMjI0ODUyNTg0MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODg3NTQ0NA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_.jpg)
Clear & Kimberly (http://gfx1.fdb.pl/9600.jpg)