A past post discussed cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker and his Pulitzer-prize winning book, Denial of Death. Here, we consider two movie scenes connected to themes from that book.
As discussed previously, Becker’s book addresses how human beings are unique animals. Our intelligence allows us to realize we are going to one day die.
That knowledge of infinite death is overwhelming, so human beings adapt various ways of suppressing the knowledge. We buy material things, we follow sports teams, and we join clubs. Also, we attach ourselves to groups, cultural items, strong political leaders, and things that appear to give us a subconscious feeling of immortality.
Becker argued that some of the ways we suppress our subconscious fears of death are unhealthy. He reasoned that a better way to live is with conscious understanding of our situation. In Denial of Death, he wrote that whatever humans do “has to be done in the lived truth of the terror of creation, of the grotesque, of the rumble of panic underneath everything.”
Some songs illustrate an aspect of this point: if you consciously realize your days are numbered, you may better evaluate and spend your time on what is important in your life. Two movie scenes illustrate a similar point.
In Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams plays a teacher at an all-boys school. In this scene, he attempts to get the students to confront their own mortality, hoping that if they realize their time is precious, they will better use the time they have.
Woody Allen has often discussed how Becker’s work has influenced his movies. In Annie Hall, there is a scene in a book store where Alvy (Woody Allen) gives Becker’s Denial of Death to Annie (Diane Keaton).
But another Allen movie sums up an aspect of Becker’s book in song. In this scene from Woody Allen’s musical, Everyone Says I Love You, the guest of honor at a funeral reminds the attendees of the fleeting nature of life.
So go enjoy yourself. Carpe diem. It’s later than you think.
What is your favorite movie about death? Leave your two cents in the comments.
(Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)