This essay deals with the notion of death and dying in the movie, where protagonists prove to be more than ordinary people who would probably succumb to the pressure of knowing that their last days are numbered. Instead, they face death head on and follow their bucket list, with items that need to be done in order for them to believe that they have led truly fulfilled lives. In the end, however, they figure out that for this, they did not need fancy dinners and exotic trips, rather what they needed was beside them all along: family and friends; because only with their support and love can a person end their life peacefully.
The fact that human kind is mortal is something that everyone is aware of. However, it appears that every single human being endeavors to forget this, to put it out of their mind, because if a person would subject himself to being constantly reminded that death could come at any moment, their whole life experience changes, for the worse. Still, what would happen if a person is told how much time he has before his watch stops ticking? The Bucket List depicts the answer to this question, in a myriad of images where two unlikely friends change each other’s lives, during the last three months of their existence. Knowing we are mortal is one thing, but knowing exactly how much time one has left, opens a whole array of questions, things to do, endeavors to undertake, and sometimes, one strays from the right path. Still, knowing where to turn in a time of need, such as family and true friends, makes life worth living, even when death is noticeably near.
The movie opens with a symbolic image of snow, high up on a mountain, which will simultaneously be the closing image of the movie, as well. Snow and winter are usually symbolic of death, coldness and enshrouding nature in a deep sleep. Thus, the first connotations of snow are negative simply because they are immediately connected with death. However, from a different point of view, these references of snow in the movie might suggest a peaceful end of a natural cycle, of someone’s life, enshrouded in snow as in a blanket, lulled to everlasting slumber. Consequently, the theme of death and dying is intertwined with the image of snow, as the protagonists fail to cross one last item on their symbolic list, which would make them witness a majestic sight. The two of them, tucked in cans, high up in the mountain, covered in a blanket of snow beneath a rock, symbolize their coming to terms with reality, learning during the very last couple of months of their lives, what really matters in life. Only when faced with certain death do they manage to find true meaning in life.
At the beginning of the movie, Edward Cole is a man who values nothing but his material riches. He has worked for them ever since he was sixteen and he has known no love and no joy other than that found in wealth. The fact that he owns a hospital is an ironic portrayal of his character and an indication that once a true time of crisis emerges in his life, his money will be of no help to him. He fights so hard to maintain his two beds to a room rule, but that is simply because he has never been sick before. Once he realizes what it really is to be sick, he wants what everyone has been asking of him for years, while he was stubbornly refusing to oblige simply because he lacked true insight into the real state of affairs.
In hospital, he meets a man who will turn out to be his guide in life, and who will teach him about true life values. Carter is mechanic, who has been struggling for years to provide for his large family and has never complained of anything, not even of the fact that he was forced to drop out of college to take up the first job that was offered to him, due to the unplanned pregnancy of his then girlfriend and now wife of forty five years.
Carter’s life wish was to become a history teacher, which is symbolic of his vast knowledge of trivia, pointing at the fact that he would have made a great professor. In turn, trivia or trivial information that he has the knowledge of, serves as a portrayal of how mostly Cole, but he himself as well, lack insight into what truly matters in life. While Cole finds only joy and solace in money, Carter starts to feel like his life was one of sacrifice for is family, and thus, both of them are neglecting to perceive and comprehend what truly matters in life. Like most people, they neglect to see the seemingly trivial things around them, little things which truly make life worth living. Once they are faced with imminent death, they can take a more profound look into their own existence and fill their last days with true joy.
Interestingly enough, Carter shares with Cole the results of a survey, where the participants were asked if they would like to know the exact time and date of their death. A stunning amount of 96% replied negatively. Carter thought that he belonged to the remaining 4%, however, this was well before he was faced with a hospital bed and imminent death. He initially thought it would be liberating, but now, he sees just how wrong his earlier conviction was. Consequently, it is all too easy for people to claim that it would be good to know the time of their death, when such a thing is not even a possibility. They erroneously believe that it really would be invigorating, in the sense that a specified time would make that same amount of time more valuable, and people would thus, endeavor to do more with it, to use it in the best manner available.
However, what they fail to take into account is that in reality, people would not like to know the exact time of their death, because then it would be all they think about. They would not think about anything else and this would prevent them from enjoying the remainder of their time. Thus, too much knowledge is not always a good thing, especially if it is the kind of knowledge that changes one’s life forever.
This is exactly what happens to the protagonists of the movie. Still, they manage to overcome this initial fear of death, and they take life head on, during the last couple of months they are in possession of. Neither of them wants to be smothered in pity and grief, as Cole tells Carter his family would treat him, urging him to go adventuring together and using up the remainder of their time as best as possible. What they continue from then on is a path of human pleasure, exotic travels and cuisine, in an effort to forget the fact that death hangs over their shoulders, and that it is only a matter of time when they will breathe their last breath.
Their plan is to follow, undertake and then, cross out the items on their bucket list that they have done. The name of the list is a word play on the phrase to kick the bucket, and it is actually a manner of forward thinking, where one endeavors to utilize the time he has left and to spend it well. Commencing as something merely metaphorical, it develops into a bonding contract between these two men, who find solace in each other, during their dying days. It is questionable whether they would have become friends if the circumstances were not such, but then again, circumstances are those that create life and it is up to the people themselves to make the best of every situation.
The film is one of compassion and understanding, of true life values, of mistakes and learning to correct them, and of finally knowing how to let go, with a smile on one’s face, as Carter’s wife smiles as they lead her husband into the operating room, not certain whether she would see him again. Though her heart aches, she smiles, because she wants him to remember her with a smile on her face, loving and devoted as she has been during their entire life together. Everyone makes mistakes of taking their loved ones for granted, forgetting how important they are to them, but in the end, all it takes is a heart full of love and a humble asking for forgiveness, to put the person back onto the right path. This is exactly what happens to the protagonists. As the saying goes, they once were lost, but at the end of their lives, they were found again, not only by each other, but by their families as well. Taking all of these factors into account, the impact that the movie has had on me is one that can barely be described in words, just like what these two men felt for each other and for their families.
The movie The Bucket List touches very closely and profoundly onto the subject and theme of death and the notion of dying, by exposing two protagonists as people who are anything but perfect. They make mistakes, they say and do the wrong things, but in the end, they realize what really matters in life, and it is this that helps them face death resolutely and without fear.
The Bucket List. Dir. Rob Reiner. Perf. Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman. Warner Bros, 2007. Film.