Death in Movies That Remind Us to Enjoy Life

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.

  • Midnight in Paris (short review)
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  • The New York Subway in the Movies
  • Happy Birthday Brooklyn Bridge
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    The New York Subway in the Movies

    As someone who regularly rides the subways of New York City, I am intrigued by a new movie montage video by Jonathan Hertzberg. Hertzberg put together a collection of film clips that feature the New York City subway system of the 1970s and 1980s.

    Featured films include The French Connection (1971), Little Murders (1971), Nighthawks (1981), Saturday Night Fever (1977), The Warriors (1979), The Last Detail (1973), Serpico (1973), Bananas (1971), Death Wish (1974), Night Shift (1982), The Brother From Another Planet (1984), and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (the 1974 original, not the 2009 remake). Hertzberg does a great job of putting together the clips in the way that makes it seem like one movie with Charles Bronson and Woody Allen on the same subway car. Check it out.

    Slate writes a little more about the video, noting that it is a work in progress and Hertzberg will be adding other films.

    What is your favorite New York Subway scene in a movie? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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  • Death in Movies That Remind Us to Enjoy Life
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  • Happy Birthday Brooklyn Bridge
  • To Rome with Love (Short Review)
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    Happy Birthday Brooklyn Bridge

    May 24 is the anniversary of the 1883 opening of the Brooklyn Bridge connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn across the East River. At the time, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge was seen as a great human achievement, resulting in the longest suspension bridge by more than 50% over any existing bridge. Well over a century later, it is still beautiful and fun to walk across.

    The bridge has appeared in a number of movies, such as Moonstruck (1987), The Siege (1998), Godzilla (1998), and I Am Legend (2007).

    Despite the Brooklyn Bridge’s iconic status, the Manhattan Bridge has stolen some of the more classic New York bridge movie scenes. That bridge is featured in classic scenes in Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979)) and in Once Upon a Time in America (1984).

    The Brooklyn Bridge still has a pretty good movie record, and you may also check it out online with a live videocam. The bridge also appears in songs. For example, Frank Sinatra sang the song, “The Brooklyn Bridge.” Similarly, the bridge recently appeared in Lee Dewyze’s jazzy “Brooklyn Bridge.”

    Below is Sinatra’s “The Brooklyn Bridge,” which was written by Sammy Cahn. The song was recorded for the movie It Happened in Brooklyn (1947), which also features Sinatra on the Bridge. The song was released as a B-side in 1947.

    For more about the Brooklyn Bridge and its historical significance, a History Channel documentary in their Modern Marvels series tells the story of the bridge. [2015 Update: Unfortunately, that video is no longer available on YouTube, but below is a preview for the Ken Burns documentary about the bridge.]

    If you prefer a much shorter video, you can check out another one that has 10 Amazing Facts About the Brooklyn Bridge.

    Photo of Brooklyn Bridge in 1899 via Brooklyn Museum. What is your favorite image of Brooklyn Bridge? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    To Rome with Love (Short Review)

    Most reviews of Woody Allen’s latest film, To Rome with Love (2012), at some point feel the need to say the latest is not as good as Allen’s success from last year, Midnight in Paris. While it is true that the new film lacks the storyline of its predecessor, To Rome with Love is a light-hearted romp set amidst the beauty of Rome that has many funny moments and is a good summer movie.

    In Woody Allen: A Documentary (2011), Allen shows a pile of scrap paper he carries around where he writes notes for ideas to movies. He explains that when it is time to write a new film, he throws the notes down and looks through them. I can imagine him doing that before he made To Rome with Love, finding four stories he liked but that on their own could not sustain a full-length film. Then, I imagine, he hit upon the idea to throw the four tales together into one movie and create To Rome with Love. And Allen being the talented director and writer that he is, he creates a fun and entertaining movie.

    To Rome with Love features four stories with separate characters connected only in that they all are in Rome. One story follows an average worker played by Roberto Benigni who suddenly finds himself famous for no reason. In another story, a character played by Allen hears the father of his daughter’s boyfriend singing in the shower and decides to make him famous. In a third tale, a newly married Italian couple become separated in the big city and the husband ends up having to pretend that a prostitute (Penélope Cruz) is his wife. In the fourth story, a character played by Alec Baldwin goes looking for his past and ends up in a story where a young man (Jesse Eisenberg) considers cheating on his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) with her friend (Ellen Page).

    I will not ruin any of the stories, but different people will enjoy different stories more than the others. While I found them all interesting, I could not help thinking that the Baldwin-Eisenberg-Gerwig-Page tale is the one story that might have had a chance to be developed into the centerpiece of film on its own.

    Conclusion? If you are looking for a summer romantic comedy with some laughs and wit, check out Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love. As all the critics will remind you, do not expect Midnight in Paris. But do not let that comparison stop you from seeing an entertaining funny film.

    Other Reviews Because Why Should You Trust Me?: Rotten Tomatoes reflects shattered Midnight in Paris expectations from many critics and viewers, showing a 45% Critics Rating and a 50% Audience Rating. Mike Scott at the New Orleans Times-Picayune agrees with the low rating and calls the film, “shrug-worthy.” Gary Wolcutt at the Tri-City Herald, though, says the movie works “brilliantly” and gives it 4 1/2 stars. Finally, although the full review is not online for non-subscribers, David Denby of The New Yorker disagrees with many other critics and praises To Rome with Love as “a stronger film” than Midnight in Paris.

  • Midnight in Paris (short review)
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    Pop Culture Roundup (Best of 2011 Edition)

    Happy new year! In case you have been too busy preparing for the new year, here is a sample of recent pop culture stories you might have missed. As you might guess, many of the interesting stories look back at the best and worst of 2011.


    — Best of 2011 —

    A number of websites and blogs consider the best music of 2011. The New York Post featured Twitter-sized reviews of the best songs of 2011. Ickmusic has a 2011 best-of list of albums and songs. Uprooted Music Revue listed its 50 Favorite Audio Releases of 2011. Entertainment Weekly listed its top 10 albums of 2011. USA Today critics picked their best albums of 2011. Cover Lay Down presented mp3s of the best cover songs of 2011.

    A number of sites considered the best and worst films of 2011. Chicago Tribune critic Michael Philips picked his 10 worst films of 2011, and he also picked his 10 best films. Just Go With It was the number one rented film at Redbox kiosks in 2011. All of top 5 rentals were comedies. Leonard Maltin picked the 11 Best Films You May Have Missed In 2011.

    Some posts examined the top books. For example, NPR listed its Best Music Books Of 2011. (Thanks @robertloerzel.) The New York Daily News picked the best under-the-radar books of 2011.

    There were other end-of-the-year lists. For example, Salon featured the viral videos of 2011. Frontier Psychologist listed The Top 10 Not That Special People of 2011. (Thanks @HipandCritical.) Salon featured the best and worst Tweets of the year. Slate had the worst catchphrases of 2011. TV critic Robert Bianco put together a list of the best and worst of TV in 2011.

    DJ Earworm created a mashup of the top 25 pop songs of 2011 in one 5-minute clip. It’s pop. There ain’t no Lucinda Williams or Ryan Adams in here.

    — Other Recent Music News —

    Beyond “more cowbell!” The New York Post examined Blue Oyster Cult in pop culture.

    Kelly Clarkson received a big boost in album sales after she endorsed Ron Paul.

    Thanks for saving me, Pink!

    Pink saved a puppy thrown in a river. How cool is that?

    Singer-actress Kaye Stevens passed away. She performed with the Rat Pack, on Johnny Carson, etc.

    Bob Seger recently explained his 2011 highlight was playing with Bruce Springsteen.

    The Los Angeles Times
    interviewed Woody Allen about his career playing New Orleans jazz.

    Bono and Glen Hansard played on the streets of Dublin for charity on Christmas Eve.


    — Other Movie News —

    Me Tarzan, you ?? Maybe it isn’t true that the chimp that just died was the 80-year-old Cheetah of Tarzan movie fame.

    Scientists have discovered the reason for the strange bird behavior that inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.


    — Other Television News —

    Anne Serling has written a memoir about discovering her father Rod through his show The Twilight Zone.

    Slate has the best and worst ads inspired by director Wes Anderson.

    Barry Livingston, who played Ernie on My Three Sons, is still acting and has a book out.

    What were your favorite stories of the year? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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  • Springsteen and Bono Sing “Because the Night” in Dublin
  • Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen “Shout” In Their Third Performance Together
  • Bob Seger on Letterman: “All the Roads”
  • Springsteen and Martin Front U2 for World Aids Day
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