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Hollywood's depictions of death on screen


TopBilled
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Quite often, death scenes in movies seem -- for lack of a better word-- hokey. This practice is not limited to the early days of motion pictures (it continues into the present, especially in horror films).  But watching A GUY NAMED JOE, namely that scene where Spencer Tracy learns he is either crazy or dead up in the clouds (you're not crazy, buddy), one can't help but wonder if this is how people thought the afterlife was in those days.  Doesn't it seem contrived, uneducated and moronic, to an extent?  Juvenile is the word that comes to mind.

 

Where is the subject of death treated more accurately, or at least more believably, on celluloid?  How about THE LAST ANGRY MAN (check out Paul Muni's spectacular deathbed scene); THE MCCONNELL STORY (where June Allyson's character witnesses the flying formation at the end that does not include Alan Ladd's deceased character); or GOOD-BYE MY LADY (which though it is unabashedly sentimental, seems to honestly convey the loss of a beloved pet).

 

Thoughts...?

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Nobody alive can give an accurate description of any kind of "afterlife", if indeed there is one.  So as far as portraying one in movies, it's fair game.  Think of BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, where nobody knows they're dead until the ship docks. 

 

In reality, most people die without uttering profound deathbed proclamations.  Most people simply die.  But in movies, it was always a different matter.  THEY seem to know that death is coming,  and peacefully resign to it.  Except, of course, in war or westerns and gangster flicks.  But I do have to agree in many cases, your "hokey" opinion is on the money.

 

Sepiatone

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Nobody alive can give an accurate description of any kind of "afterlife", if indeed there is one.  So as far as portraying one in movies, it's fair game.  Think of BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, where nobody knows they're dead until the ship docks. 

 

In reality, most people die without uttering profound deathbed proclamations.  Most people simply die.  But in movies, it was always a different matter.  THEY seem to know that death is coming,  and peacefully resign to it.  Except, of course, in war or westerns and gangster flicks.  But I do have to agree in many cases, your "hokey" opinion is on the money.

 

Sepiatone

Sepiatone, Between Two Worlds was excellent. I love death done well in movies. I love out of focus benevolent spirits, as in Beyond Tomorrow.

 

My favorite favorite is still The Time Of Their Lives, when Costello/Horatio finds the gates of heaven closed for Washington's (not the Presidents all jumbled together at that point in time) Birthday.

 

Ods bokins.

 

Doesn't it seem contrived, uneducated and moronic, to an extent?  Juvenile is the word that comes to mind.

 

TopBilled, I would be the first to agree wholeheartedly that the audience of 1943 was naive and optimistic and unrealistic and myopically patriotic when it came to movies, religion, and politics.

 

However, even now I love a good fantasy film, Always is an older not very good one that comes to mind, Frequency is another, better one, and if there's one thing I am not, it's naive and optimistic and unrealistic and myopically patriotic. :rolleyes:

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TopBilled, I would be the first to agree wholeheartedly that the audience of 1943 was naive and optimistic and unrealistic and myopically patriotic when it came to movies, religion, and politics.

 

However, even now I love a good fantasy film, Always is an older not very good one that comes to mind, Frequency is another, better one, and if there's one thing I am not, it's naive and optimistic and unrealistic and myopically patriotic. :rolleyes:

Interesting you mention ALWAYS, as it was a loose remake of A GUY NAMED JOE.

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  • 2 weeks later...

 

 

Where is the subject of death treated more accurately, or at least more believably, on celluloid?  

 

Thoughts...?

Life is not treated particularly accurately on celluloid, why should we expect death to be? Amidst the wide range of deaths on film, some are more realistic than others. I'm happy for the variety. I no more look for that sort of realism in film than I would in this Picasso: 

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Quite often, death scenes in movies seem -- for lack of a better word-- hokey. This practice is not limited to the early days of motion pictures (it continues into the present, especially in horror films).  But watching A GUY NAMED JOE, namely that scene where Spencer Tracy learns he is either crazy or dead up in the clouds (you're not crazy, buddy), one can't help but wonder if this is how people thought the afterlife was in those days.  Doesn't it seem contrived, uneducated and moronic, to an extent?  Juvenile is the word that comes to mind.

 

 

 

By today standards, many studio era films could fit that description.

 

But it was 1943, the world was at war and while we today may have a hard time imagining what World War II was like not only for those fighting but those at home who loved them, hadn't seen or maybe heard from them and was always anxious at any news of battles, the movie gave a bit of comfort to all involved that they or their loved ones, if they died, would be able to watch over them and help guide them.

 

Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Perhaps the movie helped ease the pain of those who lost loved ones not only storming the beaches but throughout the war.

 

A Matter of Life and Death was another film about death and the afterlife that dealt with the subject matter differently and while it is now regarded as a masterpiece, Joe was more successful at the box office at the time.

 

So, maybe audiences weren't so much "contrived, moronic or uneducated" as much as they were in need of a good fantasy to take their minds off the reality of the war and loss that they were living with on a daily basis.

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By today standards, many studio era films could fit that description.

 

But it was 1943, the world was at war and while we today may have a hard time imagining what World War II was like not only for those fighting but those at home who loved them, hadn't seen or maybe heard from them and was always anxious at any news of battles, the movie gave a bit of comfort to all involved that they or their loved ones, if they died, would be able to watch over them and help guide them.

 

Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Perhaps the movie helped ease the pain of those who lost loved ones not only storming the beaches but throughout the war.

 

A Matter of Life and Death was another film about death and the afterlife that dealt with the subject matter differently and while it is now regarded as a masterpiece, Joe was more successful at the box office at the time.

 

So, maybe audiences weren't so much "contrived, moronic or uneducated" as much as they were in need of a good fantasy to take their minds off the reality of the war and loss that they were living with on a daily basis.

I don't know, Lynn.  I don't think I agree with you on this.  Writing it off as a need for fantasy seems to give audiences then a 'free pass.' There were plenty of intelligent movie-goers, I am sure, who thought these depictions of death on screen were unrealistic. Maybe the Hollywood machinery that produced these pictures were the ones who were contrived, moronic or uneducated when it came to understanding the psychological aspects of death.  I do not feel these representations helped, and even if they temporarily eased the pain which I highly doubt, I think they caused more problems in the long run.  So again, a thumbs down on A GUY NAMED JOE.

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Maybe the depiction of some sort of afterlife in any movie succeeds, despite how contrived or hokey it seems, because our society, due to having a largely gratuitous Christian upbringing, can't imagine there NOT being one.  I mean, it's impossible for an individual to imagine his not existing, so aware of his surroundings as he is.  The idea that all thought, sight, hearing, feeling and the responding to it  is really hard to fathom.  It appeals to one's living consciousness to see any kind of afterlife depicted on screen.  It both scares and fascinates us to think of what might happen when we die, if in fact, something does happen.

 

Sepiatone

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Maybe the depiction of some sort of afterlife in any movie succeeds, despite how contrived or hokey it seems, because our society, due to having a largely gratuitous Christian upbringing, can't imagine there NOT being one.  I mean, it's impossible for an individual to imagine his not existing, so aware of his surroundings as he is.  The idea that all thought, sight, hearing, feeling and the responding to it  is really hard to fathom.  It appeals to one's living consciousness to see any kind of afterlife depicted on screen.  It both scares and fascinates us to think of what might happen when we die, if in fact, something does happen.

 

Sepiatone

Not sure about that. It is almost like saying that a movie-goer has to see a cabbage patch on screen in a movie about rabbits to know that cabbage patches exist for all bunnies.  At some point, we have to critically ask, HOW the afterlife or HOW the cabbage patch is being conveyed.  If it is completely absurd, there is no assurance that it is at all helpful.  Fortunately, the faith of Christians seems to have evolved since these movies were made (at least for adults not clinging to child-like views of the hereafter)-- and we have more outspoken atheists than ever (thank goodness!) challenging Christians on their views.

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I don't know either.  I think that the "clinging" onto a belief of any kind of afterlife is why TV shows like LONG ISLAND MEDIUM succeed.  People being told that some loved one who they dearly miss and has passed away suddenly is at peace, and sending them messages of not to feel guilty that they couldn't do more, or they're always with them, yadda yadda yadda, makes the survivor feel better.  I'm not passing judgement or saying none of that is true. Maybe it is.  I know people who will swear to it.  I too, have had my own, eerie experiences.  Long stories for a different time.  But for me, there ARE possible explanations that could discount them being factual.  At any rate, it's nice to be hopeful of the possibility.

 

Sepiatone

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I don't know either.  I think that the "clinging" onto a belief of any kind of afterlife is why TV shows like LONG ISLAND MEDIUM succeed.  People being told that some loved one who they dearly miss and has passed away suddenly is at peace, and sending them messages of not to feel guilty that they couldn't do more, or they're always with them, yadda yadda yadda, makes the survivor feel better.  I'm not passing judgement or saying none of that is true. Maybe it is.  I know people who will swear to it.  I too, have had my own, eerie experiences.  Long stories for a different time.  But for me, there ARE possible explanations that could discount them being factual.  At any rate, it's nice to be hopeful of the possibility.

 

Sepiatone

If the idea of clinging to that possibility does not harm people psychologically.  

 

I looked up Agee's review of the film.  I figured he would not be so easily swayed. Here is what he wrote: "...it neatly obtunds death's sting as ordinary people suffer it by not only assuming but photographing a good, busy, hearty hereafter...But I don't care to see it so blandly used, as unqualified aspirin, before an audience of which the majority, I fear, believes everything it sees on a screen, nor can I respect the dramatic uses to which the idea has been put here."

 

I cannot respect it, either.

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If anyone ever wanted to see death portrayed realistically, they should check out Alain Resnais' Night and Fog (1955), which just played on TCM earlier this month.  That's a movie that should be played in prime time during each and every war movie festival.

 

But that's a documentary.  When it comes to the usual fictional depiction of death other than in Itchy and Scratchy cartoons, I think a little bit of gore goes a long way, and beyond that it's mostly a case of the filmmaker trying to draw attention to himself.  The final shootout in Bonnie and Clyde and the many depictions of wholesale mayhem in The Wild Bunch come close to crossing that line between honesty and exhibitionism, especially considering the extreme improbability of the "losing side" being able to hold out as long as was the case in either of those movies.  The shootout scenes in those two films were more like those Hollywood fistfights where two middle aged men are somehow able to spring up to their feet instantly after being hit with thirty hard rights to the jaw and a few flying chairs.  It makes for great drama but not much for realism.

 

OTOH when it comes to "real" war movies like Come and See, or Letters From Iwo Jima, then Hollywood exaggeration isn't necessary to get the point across, while at the same time there's no need to hold back for the sake of disturbing the kiddies.  Films like those really hit the sweet spot.

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I have no clue whether there is an afterlife or not.  I'm agnostic at best.  My wife is a firm believer in an afterlife and lives to serve her image of godliness and an afterlife.  My favorite movie involving death/life and afterlife projections onscreen is A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946).  Simply a terrific and thoughtful movie IMO. 

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I don't know, Lynn.  I don't think I agree with you on this.  Writing it off as a need for fantasy seems to give audiences then a 'free pass.' There were plenty of intelligent movie-goers, I am sure, who thought these depictions of death on screen were unrealistic. Maybe the Hollywood machinery that produced these pictures were the ones who were contrived, moronic or uneducated when it came to understanding the psychological aspects of death.  I do not feel these representations helped, and even if they temporarily eased the pain which I highly doubt, I think they caused more problems in the long run.  So again, a thumbs down on A GUY NAMED JOE.

 

 

I was taken aback by your original post. It's evident that you are not a fan of the film and I don't take issue with that.

 

But for a guy who takes pride and care as you do in your film writings, I was surprised to see you use the words "contrived, moronic and uneducated" when describing a film audience from 70 years ago and it came across- to me, at least,-that you were using those descriptors because you didn't like the way the afterlife was presented in the film from today's perspective, 70 years later.

 

Many studio era films don't hold up under today's way of looking at things.  But it is one thing to write about why a film doesn't hold up and another to call the audience and studio bosses "contrived, moronic and uneducated" because you don't like that portrayal.

 

So your approach to criticizing the film surprised me as you usually take more care when presenting your case for a film.

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I was taken aback by your original post. It's evident that you are not a fan of the film and I don't take issue with that.

 

But for a guy who takes pride and care as you do in your film writings, I was surprised to see you use the words "contrived, moronic and uneducated" when describing a film audience from 70 years ago and it came across- to me, at least,-that you were using those descriptors because you didn't like the way the afterlife was presented in the film from today's perspective, 70 years later.

 

Many studio era films don't hold up under today's way of looking at things.  But it is one thing to write about why a film doesn't hold up and another to call the audience and studio bosses "contrived, moronic and uneducated" because you don't like that portrayal.

 

So your approach to criticizing the film surprised me as you usually take more care when presenting your case for a film.

 

Yes, and I did consider that when I chose those words and made those posts.  But that is how I feel about A GUY NAMED JOE.  It still seems like a contrived presentation of the theme, at least in my opinion.  Trust me, I don't enjoy coming down harshly on a film that is considered a classic by many.  I don't think it has to do with it being a 70 year old film either.  I have a feeling I would have this opinion if I was watching it on screen as a new release in 1940-whenever.  Or if it was newly released today. Again, I find the presentation of the theme just too ridiculous to swallow.  But I am okay with people being a fan of it, if they are entertained by it (films are often meant to entertain).

 

Another film that I take issue with for similar reasons is THE SONG OF BERNADETTE.  I think the presentation of the theme (miracles) is completely absurd and in my honest view of it, makes religious people look a bit kooky.  What's tougher about THE SONG OF BERNADETTE is that it is supposedly based on the 'real' experiences of a person who lived many years earlier.  A lot of what is presented in the screenplay is taken as fact, when I think there are certainly many fictional elements thrown in-- and the acting is a bit overwrought in spots-- yet people who watch it think that is exactly how people acted and behaved in those times.  I am not sure about that.

 

I have written extensively about THE SONG OF BERNADETTE on other websites, and I think what happened to me is that I was able to dig deep and flesh out my philosophy about what a miracle is.  In this case, with A GUY NAMED JOE, I am in the process of fleshing out my personal views of the after-life, and when I look at this MGM film, I scratch my head and say 'no dice...I don't believe that' added to 'I can't believe other people believe(d) that.'  This is what makes us all different when we watch and digest films.  And sometimes it is a judgment call and if you have to come down on one side or the other in no uncertain terms.  If others do not agree, I am fine with that.  If they are not fine with my opinion, there isn't anything I can do about that, unfortunately.

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I was reading these posts and got to thinking of what I'd once read about Garbo's death scene in Camille. It's very subtle andother than the fact that she looks like Garbo and not like an end stage TB patient, fairly realistic. He's holding her and talking and she just stops. No dramatic gestures, no last words, just a sigh and it's over.

 

Anyway, I remember reading that people at the time were completely bowled over. Some thought she was really dead and some swore that they saw Garbo's soul leave her body. Forgive me, but that's a little "moronic..."

 

I always liked the death scene in Dishonoured. It's so...totally Dietrich. 

 

 

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One of the more realistic death scenes in the movies, I felt, was that of Ronald Colman in A Double Life. He dies in mid sentence with his eyes still open but seeming to focus on nothing. The expression goes out of them. I always thought it a very effective moment. Brando in Mutiny on the Bounty does much the same thing. I wonder if he saw Colman's performance.

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Quite often, death scenes in movies seem -- for lack of a better word-- hokey. This practice is not limited to the early days of motion pictures (it continues into the present, especially in horror films).  But watching A GUY NAMED JOE, namely that scene where Spencer Tracy learns he is either crazy or dead up in the clouds (you're not crazy, buddy), one can't help but wonder if this is how people thought the afterlife was in those days.  Doesn't it seem contrived, uneducated and moronic, to an extent?  Juvenile is the word that comes to mind.

 

Where is the subject of death treated more accurately, or at least more believably, on celluloid?  How about THE LAST ANGRY MAN (check out Paul Muni's spectacular deathbed scene); THE MCCONNELL STORY (where June Allyson's character witnesses the flying formation at the end that does not include Alan Ladd's deceased character); or GOOD-BYE MY LADY (which though it is unabashedly sentimental, seems to honestly convey the loss of a beloved pet).

 

Thoughts...?

 

Well TB, I think based on what you have written here and subsequent posts is that you have a hard time believing many death scenes that appear in many movies. What I don't understand is how you seem to indicate that the audiences of yesteryear were more sophisticated than the movies being shown in theaters of the time.

 

I think based on everything I have ever read or seen about film audiences from the 1930s onward up until possibly the mid to late sixties is that they were for the most part willing to accept pretty much anything they saw on the silver screen. Those audiences were not as concerned with detail as audiences are today. You would never ever have death scenes shot today in films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. No blood, and many times the actual act of dying was not shown, many instances of death occurred off screen.

 

Sure we had westerns and war films where we saw a person get hit with an arrow or shot with a gun, and what did we see? Most often than not we saw a grimaced looking person usually grabbing their torso just after getting hit. Time and time again. Morals and the Hays Code back then dictated less gruesome death scenes. Even non-violent death scenes were handled with kid gloves.

 

Same could be said about not showing toilets, or showing married couples sleeping in the same bed. It just did not happen. Now maybe some audience members felt that was hokey, not showing couples sleeping together or toilets, but apparently it never seemed to bother anyone or at least I can not seem to find any article to the contrary. The first appearance of a toilet did not take place until 1960's Psycho.

 

Now as far as your feeling about the death scene in movies and whether you feel they were too hokey or not realistic enough, all I have to say is this: The Hays Code.

 

If it weren't for the code I think maybe death would have been handled far differently than it was especially before 1965 or so. Even then, many movie deaths were still quite tame. Bonnie and Clyde changed all of that. Followed by Pechinpah's The Wild Bunch in 1969. Because of the Hays Code censors Hollywood really did not have much freedom and or latitude to show the gruesome nature of death. Even death bed scenes were handled quite tamely.

 

Flash forward to the mid to late 1960's and everything changed. I have looked at quite a few movies and in many of the films I own in my own library I have quite a few with death scenes. I pick three that have had lasting affect on me.

 

Bette Davis in Dark Victory 1939.

Young socialite and heiress Miss Judith Traherne (Davis), with a brain tumor, died a quiet upstairs death.

 

The death scene began at the foot of the stairs, where she told housekeeper Martha, "I'm going up to lie down now." She climbed the stairs, one last time. She stopped midway to embrace and say goodbye to her two dogs. She finally made it to her bedroom, knelt and offered a final prayer by her bedside.

The housekeeper had followed her and pulled the blinds on the window, shutting out the light.

 

Judith asked: "Is that you, Martha?" She eased herself onto her bed and lied down, telling her housekeeper to be dismissed, without hysterics: I don't want to be disturbed.

Martha covered her with a comforter and then left the room and closed the door. Judith faced the end alone and died in a dignified manner. A camera framed a close-up of Judith's sightless, staring face and then slowly blurred out-of-focus, signifying the end of her vision and death. A heavenly chorus of voices accompanied her entrance into the void.

A little silly for sure but not really a bad way to show someone who might have died alone.

 

 

Walter Huston in Yankee Doddle Dandy 1942

 

In a sad death-bed scene, patriarch Jerry Cohan (Huston), was with his son George (James Cagney) by his side.

 

He mentioned son George's earlier playing of Peck's Bad Boy:

"If you upstage your mother, I'll whale the tar out of ya."

They also spoke about the final curtain call.

George wept as he delivered the 'curtain call' on his father's life and collapsed into his father's arms.

His father asked about the number of curtain calls (the response was six) that night and what the speech was, after which George told him, with a breaking voice, the film's most famous line:

Jerry: "How many curtain calls did you take tonight?
"

George: "Six, six curtains.
"

Jerry: "That's pretty good for a drama. Did you make a speech?
"

George: speaking with an unsteady, breaking voice, "I said 'my mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you.'"

 

His father cupped his hand on George's head to comfort him and then Jerry passed away.

 

This has always been one of my favorite films. And this death bed scene was really well played. Dramatic? Yes. But also sentimental.

 

 

Debra Winger in Shadowlands 1993

 

In this tearjerker British romance biopic film by director Richard Attenborough, bachelor Oxford University author C. S. "Jack" Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) of the Narnia Chronicles establishes a relationship with a feisty American fan, a soon to be divorced poet named Joy Gresham (Winger), whom he eventually befriended and married. His marriage was originally platonic but became more loving after time.

Lewis chronicled his own reactions to Joy's premature death from bone cancer in 1960 in his book 'A Grief Observed' (1961), the inspiration for the film.

 

Cancer-ridden, she died quietly in bed, with Lewis telling her:

"Don't talk, my love. Just rest, just rest."

After a kiss just before she expired, he also added:

"I love you, Joy. I love you so much. You made me so happy. I didn't know I could be so happy. You're the truest person I have ever known..."

Following Joy's death, Lewis was at first stoic and resigned to her death. Then, he abruptly shared tortured grief and uncontrollable weeping with her young son Douglas (Joseph Mazzello) in the attic:

 

Lewis: "I thought that if I prayed for her to get better, and if I really believed she'd get better, then she wouldn't die. But she did... I loved your mother very much. Perhaps I loved her too much. She knew that. She said to me, 'Is it worth it?' 'cause she knew what it would be like later. Doesn't seem fair, does it?"


Douglas: "I don't see why she had to get sick."


Lewis: "Nor me. But, uh, you can't hold onto things, Douglas. You have to let them go."


Douglas: "Jack...Do you believe in heaven?"


Lewis: "Yes, I do."


Douglas: "I don't believe in heaven."


Lewis: "That's okay."


Douglas: "I would like to see her again."


Lewis (sobbing): "Me too."

 

Now this for me is possibly the saddest death scene of all time. It shows how a man and his wife absolutely loves one another and shows what the immediate after effect of death has on a young boy. Hopkins was superb in this role as was Winger. Pretty unusual but Winger had another death bed scene just ten years before this in Terms of Endearment.

 

 

 

 

 

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Films like a Guy Named Joe have about as much to do with the realities of whether or not there is an "afterlife" as they do with the wonders of aviation. Very little (maybe even less, if the truth be known) But the NICE part is.. to appreciate a movie like A Guy Named Joe (or some other story of that nature) you don't really have to BELIEVE it could be real. You just have to like the story and/or characters and sit back and enjoy it.  

 

If the film were to be presented as some sort of commentary on what we all should expect to happen to US someday after death.. then yeah, I could see it maybe as a "hokey' example. But mention was made somewhere in midst of all of this chat that it could be supposed that the film was just made for entertainment. And that would be my opinion on the topic, as I feel certain that is most likely the reason this film, and others like it, get made. They are fantasy.. and not meant to be thought of as someone's "afterlife" example. (I don't THINK so, anyway)  It is just a "type" of story-telling that is meant to entertain.

 

And what about "ghost stories" both the scary and the comical, for that matter?? (or sometimes the ones that were MEANT to scare.. but end up being comical anyway, ha.. because yeah.. that can happen) You don't necessarily have to really BELIEVE a ghost can come back and haunt the living to enjoy a film of that genre.. but whether you believe in "ghost" or not.. sometimes a good ghost story can be quite entertaining. (at least to some folks)  

 

So  guess what I am saying is that whether or not films like A Guy Name Joe are 'hokey"  could just be a matter of personal taste (based on whether or not one enjoys those sorts of stories or not) There really is no right or wrong for such things. I have always said that movies are nothing, if not subjective. So I guess "hokey" is in the eye of the beholder. 

 

Having said that.. do some people believe it is possible for something like what happened in AGNJ to REALLY happen after death?? Well.. maybe. I guess it's possible that somewhere there might be SOMEONE out there who might believe that way. But others may hold to a more traditional Christian view of what happens to a human soul when the body is gone.  And I am sure there are others still who believe the teachings of their differing religions as well. Meanwhile still others may well believe that death is just the end. Pfft.. and that's it. With nothing more.

 

And then there would be those who if they were honest about what they believe on the topic, would just say, "I don't know".  

 

Let's face it.. there are all sorts of ways to think on the subject.  And does ANYONE have the right answer?? Well.. I am sure many of us could debate that. I have my own opinions that are quite deeply held, I assure you. But this is probably not the place to discuss who is and isn't right. (at least with regard to such a topic) In fact I feel quite certain it would not be an effective conversation for any of us to delve that deeply into such things here on this sort of message board.

 

So if we are all to be honest here.. and in the interest of fairness.. I guess the MOST we should say is that we have to take WHATEVER it is we believe on the subject "on faith" and we should all be free from such scrutiny as to be looked down upon for our own deeply held  personal beliefs.. whatever they may be. 

 

And my point in saying all THAT is.. I hope this will be the end of such labels as "moronic" or "hokey' or even "intelligent" for that matter, when it comes to the description of the various beliefs that may be held by movie goers (of any era)  on human death (and what does or does not happen afterward).

 

And in that spirit, I make the following promise to any of you that  post here: I will not to call YOUR opinion on the afterlife (or the lack thereof) moronic. And I will add, that in so-doing, I  expect the same courtesy from you as well. Because hey, we are all free to hold our own opinions here. 

 

(Just thought I would say that.. for those of you who are so self-satisfied that you have all the "answers" to the mystery surrounding what happens when we die. A little respect to just "agree to disagree" with others who feel differently can go a long way.)

 

 

Meanwhile.. (and hopefully somewhat still on topic)  I will also tell you that I recently had a conversation on another website with several people (all from different backgrounds and walks of life.. all from different points of view on the afterlife, too, I'm pretty sure) where we discussed the different ways death was depicted in film. It proved quite thought provoking (and even very entertaining) to think about the different ways Hollywood approached the subject of "the final frontier" (and even some of the reasons WHY it might be used in a story) 

 

(Oh.. And the nice part about that conversation was.nobody's personal beliefs were being attacked. We just had a fun conversation about it)

What I found interesting is that there ARE no short explanations for death and why it is used in a film. In fact, we started out with a list of only five categories for the different ways (and the reasons why) the death of any movie character might be shown in the movies. And by the time we were finished we ended up with a much longer list. (or WERE we finished.?? ha.. because if the truth were told.. we likely COULD have kept going, if we had chosen to)

 

As it was, we ended up with a list of almost 30 different ways that death might be depicted in a film (and some of the reasons behind why any character might be killed off in a story) And admittedly some of these examples COULD fit into more than one category.. but here are just a few of my favorites:

 

1) Too Good for this World (for characters like Melanie from Gone With the Wind.. or Beth March, from Little Women.. those who are just so dear and sweet that it breaks your heart to see them suffer)
2) Too Rotten to live /Just Desserts  (for characters that will make you cheer when they finally get what's coming to them.. like Liberty Valance, or the Wicked Witch of the West.  just to name two)
3)Ultimate Sacrifice (think Gunga Din, climbing up to blow that horn)
5) Repentant Bad Guy (Someone who sees the error of their ways.. perhaps only at the end) such as Darth Vader, for example with that whole bit about "Luke.. tell your sister you were right about me", etc, etc)
8 ) Crazed Loonies  (James Cagney in White Heat. Because you know, he's going down.. and taking everybody else with him, if he has half a chance)
11) Wrong Place/Wrong Time  (Janet Leigh, in Psycho.. because, boy, oh boy.. was she ever in the wrong place at the wrong time)
20) The Talking Dead (for characters who narrate from the dead.. like William Holden in Sunset Boulevard)
21)The Death Star (movies with "Death" is a character.. such as Death Takes a Holiday, or Meet Joe Black)
24) Eternal Red Tape (for stories like Heaven Can Wait or Here Comes Mr. Jordan, etc)
27) It's a Wonderful Afterlife... SOMETIMES (for films like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, or other stories where Death is just the beginning)
28) Deal or NO Deal (for stories like The Devil and Daniel Webster.. where contracts are made.. and made to be broken)

 

Again.. these are just a few of my favorites from the list we made. But no matter how many different reasons for death to be used in a story, it can certainly be a very effective tool to bring about change in a plot, or in some specific character. (even if it is only used as just a passing moment to move the action forward in a new direction) and it can even (and often does) get used to just  wrap up the end of the movie in one fell swoop.

 

But whatever the reason for death to be used in a film, it is pretty effective. I mean.. can there be anything more "attention getting" in a plot, than when one of the characters dies? Because no matter how or why it happens,   just as in real life, when a movie character dies, it can (and usually does) totally change everything. 

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At some point, we have to critically ask, HOW the afterlife or HOW the cabbage patch is being conveyed.  If it is completely absurd, there is no assurance that it is at all helpful.  

 

I am sorry to say that I disagree strongly with that sentiment. 

 

I feel that movies are not intended to be realistic lessons on life or afterlife. To "critically ask" why two people who have not seen each other in many years would meet again at a time which is critical to their futures destroys the serendipity of movies such as: Casablanca (1942). To "critically ask" if a man steeped in family tradition and social prestige would marry a mouse of a woman on a whim destroys the romance of movies such as: Rebecca (1940). To "critically ask" if totalitarian regimes can exist on other planets destroys the wonderment of movies such as: Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924).

 

People the world over who were close to nature and knew well life in its varying forms and complexities independently recognized that an afterlife must exist even although their depictions of it varied wildly. Only those who know of life only as regimented social ordeal question the existence of afterlife. Those who know that there must be an afterlife acknowledge that no person alive knows precisely what it is like and are in general open to depictions of it which are different than what they believe it might be. It is known well that the afterlife is akin to sex or spending two weeks in Toledo in that each person's expectations and experiences will never agree precisely, intimately and objectively with the expectations and experiences of a different person.

 

The reassurance found in depictions of an afterlife does not reside in its realism or reasoning. The reassurance is that the movie speaks true of life because the screenwriter and director are not drudge atheists of little wit who can not see beyond their own insipid little existence.

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Not sure about that. It is almost like saying that a movie-goer has to see a cabbage patch on screen in a movie about rabbits to know that cabbage patches exist for all bunnies.  At some point, we have to critically ask, HOW the afterlife or HOW the cabbage patch is being conveyed.  If it is completely absurd, there is no assurance that it is at all helpful.  Fortunately, the faith of Christians seems to have evolved since these movies were made (at least for adults not clinging to child-like views of the hereafter)-- and we have more outspoken atheists than ever (thank goodness!) challenging Christians on their views.

and we have more outspoken atheists than ever (thank goodness!) challenging Christians on their views.

 

And ain't that a great thing. Imagine what a horror this world would be if there were no atheists and agnostics? Brrrrrrrrrrr.

 

On death in the movies and bunnies, Watership Down is an excellent portrayal of death. I assume Old Yeller and The Yearling deal well with it also, but I've never watched either and never will. I'll never rewatch Bambi or Dumbo either.

 

How about Meet Joe Black, I always liked that idea. One last blowout before we go nowhere? :D

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People the world over who were close to nature and knew well life in its varying forms and complexities independently recognized that an afterlife must exist even although their depictions of it varied wildly.

 

 

I see now we are getting quite into eschatology! In fact, there is really not much of a special equation between closeness to nature and belief in an afterlife. Societies that are "close to nature" in fact tend to be much more ritualistic. "Regimented social ordeals" are much more common in rural societies of yore, where almost every moment is governed by a ritual, whether as part of religious or secular life. The Christian concept of an afterlife comes largely from the Zoroastrians -- ancient Persians, who still exist in a very small part in Iran and a slightly larger community -- the Parsis -- in India. In fact, the word "Paradise" comes from the ancient Persian/Avestan language. Ideas about what happens to the soul at death in the Zoroastrian religion are quite fascinating. 

 

Also, although fundamentalists prefer not to recognize this, religions evolve, like everything else. I remember one of my post-graduate professors of theology, in a Catholic university, being asked about how literally we have to take the NT. The response: "We have to decide what was for that time and what was for all time."  Even in some of the more dogmatic religions, concepts change.

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TB, while it doesn't surprise me at all that because of how you predicated your initial post and by a few of your replies to others in it, this thread has begun to delve into the theological.

 

I "believe" your primary intent was more specifically geared toward the idea of presenting your opinion that you felt the film A GUY NAMED JOE was mawkish and manipulatively sentimental. And if that WAS your primary intent, then I have to say I agree with you, as the last time I watched this movie I remember more than few scenes contained within it which caused me to involuntarily "roll MY eyes to the heavens", too!

 

However, having said this, sorry, I also think you might have been placing much too much importance upon this film in regard to it being some form of an "essay" about "the Afterlife", as I got the impression you also wanted(and maybe more than you realize) to use this movie as some sort of an example to press your own theological opinion(s) here.

 

I'd like to add that even though this Agnostic HERE isn't inclined toward a belief in some Afterlife, some of my favorite films are ones I "believe" to be well made and extremely entertaining and which touch upon this very subject, such as Lubitsch's HEAVEN CAN WAIT.

 

(...and THAT'S probably because I like movies about this subject that don't take themselves all that seriously, because MY "belief" is that the more people DON'T take themselves all THAT seriously, the better THIS "life" becomes!) ;)

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