Death in the Movies
In all areas of popular culture, death is a significant element. If we were to list all the movies where death is part of the plot, few movies would be left out. However, there are some films where death is a major part of the narrative, or where death related issues are explored as part of the thematic element of the film. While this list is only a starting point, the commentaries will show a little of the breadth and diversity of movie representations of death as portrayed in the cinema.
Set in the future, this film is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, its hero is young, female and mostly fully clothed, and secondly, the aliens themselves have become the model upon which many later ghastly creatures have been based. Although slow moving by today's standards, the movie vividly portrays the familiar fear of being taken over and devoured by something evil from within. Freud would have loved it!
This film follows the journey of the central character through his transformation to a vampire and then through his moral and emotional turmoil as he comes to terms with its implications. Death is portrayed as ugly and brutal, but eventually as a longed for and unattainable relief as the vampire faces a lonely and cruel eternity.
In the style of many revenge type horror movies, the wronged central character returns to the scene of his agony to wreak havoc on those he blames for his torment. A popular genre, the film follows the usual pattern with the grim perpetrator eventually destroyed by the good guys, reassuring the audience that while nightmares are real, they will always fade with the night.
Combining uncompromising (if sometimes bizarre) images, and a bleak portrayal of the dehumanizing effects of military training, Platoon is often seen as a classic of its type. It reflected, and has perhaps contributed to the image that America has carried with it about the meaning of the Vietnam War.
From one of the blackest and most brutal periods in recent history comes this heroic tale of an unlikely hero used his power to save the lives of some of the millions condemned to death under Hitler's rule. The black and white presentation helped to highlight not only the historical context but also the harshness of the subject matter.
This famous black comedy was made in the midst of the cold war, when people were grappling with the terrifying reality that for the first time, we had the power to obliterate ourselves completely. It takes a cynical look at the power of the military and the sanity or otherwise of those entrusted with the power of life and death over all humanity.
The terrible disease AIDS has had a profound impact on society. This film explores the fight of one AIDS sufferer to achieve justice under the law. It also confronts the terrible fear that many of us face when confronted with a condition which is still often misunderstood and for which medicine has yet to find an answer.
A sob story based on the life of a young woman confronting her own imminent death. As she and her partner come to terms with her tragedy, the audience becomes involved in the debate over whether it is the quality or the quantity of life which is finally most important.
For young Lorenzo, the future seems to be inevitable deterioration and death, due to the rare brain disease, ALD. Lorenzo's parents however, are fighters, and against overwhelming odds, they strive to achieve the impossible - a medical breakthrough which can help their son.
A beautiful movie about growing up, inspiring role models and the agony of being unable to achieve one's dream. The suicide poses many questions for the reader about who should bear responsibility, why young people make such tragic decisions and what can be done to help.
This fascinating and complex film traces the backgrounds of four Chinese women prior to their emigration to America. It confronts the reader with some of the heartrending choices that people must sometimes make, and implies, that at least in some circumstances and in some social contexts, death may be a viable option.
An original interpretation of the classic road movie genre, Thelma and Louise varies the usual pattern by tracing the journey of two women across the American landscape. Their journey is, of course, emotional and spiritual as well as physical, but is the final scene a solution, or a cop out?
A classic exploration of the American justice system, racism and the strengths and failings of the ordinary man, this film also makes an important contribution to the debate over capital punishment. Though justice is served in the end, it is a tenuous and fragile process, with the life of the young defendant coming perilously close to being lost.
Whether you favor it or not, if you think the question of capital punishment is an easy one, this film will challenge you. As we travel with the condemned man toward his death, we are drawn to feel sympathy, anger, repulsion and pain as his story unfolds and the system moves inevitably forward.
This chilling movie follows the lives of two weak and hopeless individuals whose one notable action is the pointless and largely unplanned slaughter of a family during a robbery. The viewer follows as they are hunted down, their trial and finally their execution. No excuses are offered on their behalf but we are left uncomfortably aware of just how easily the dislocated and inadequate can turn to violence.
Although grief is not the central theme of this recent film, the long term impact of his wife's death and his inability to move on are important factors in the psyche of Sean McGuire. The gradual growth and development of his pupil, Will, also forces McGuire to assess his own values, responses and future.
In a pointless and vicious crime, a twelve year old is killed by thieves at a fast food outlet. A year later, the boy's parents, Macon Leary and his wife Sarah are still struggling to find a way to deal with their grief. The film explores the often unremarked consequences that follow a violent death and the gradual struggle of those left behind to regain life and happiness.
Death comes untimely to Pete, when he sacrifices his life to save a fire-fighting buddy. He does not go straight to his reward however, but stays behind in ghostly form to help inspire the rookie who will replace him. Pete's girlfriend struggles to find meaning in the remnants of her life, but it is difficult to feel much compassion for any of these rather thinly drawn characters.
The first in what was to become a long line of movies showcasing its muscle bound star, this film shares with others of its genre a remarkably neat division of all characters into the baddies, who can be gunned down easily by the dozen without a second thought, and the good guys, who are very difficult to kill, but whose rare passing is clearly a shocking tragedy which must be rapidly avenged.
Unlike "Alien" the battle here is a simple one, good muscles verses bad muscles, and the viewer is in no doubt right from the beginning which set of biceps will emerge victorious. Gory deaths and luscious tropical scenery add to the visual interest, but it is hard to resist feeling that the alien creature is the most interesting and intelligent character in the film.
Based on the historical story of William Wallace, a Scottish clansman who defied the king of England, the story tells a romantic tale of idealism and honesty, and their inevitable defeat. Deaths are brutally and realistically portrayed at a time when killing a man was much more physical than dropping a bomb or firing a rifle. Even in defeat and death, Wallace shows the audience the value of courage and integrity.
When the audience knows in advance what the central action will be (the boat is going to sink) the tension and interest will often be achieved by keeping us guessing exactly who will die and how. We are not meant to become overly emotionally involved in most of the characters, and the final tragedy must be balanced with a sense of some hope, balance or justice. Is this film successful in this regard? I'll let you be the judge.
Independence DayNothing unites a community like an external aggressor, and you can't get much more external than aliens from outer space. Of course it is down to the Americans to save the rest of us from the little green men, with dazzling special effects and more than a pinch of unlikely coincidence on their side. Deaths are frequent and varied, even the First Lady dies, but most deaths are of the nameless extras, for whom we feel no real regret.
Like so many others of its type, this film was made more to show off the work of the special effects team than to explore any deep questions of human experience. It does however, look a little at the range of responses to a crisis, and thus at the extremes of selfishness and heroism of which our species is capable in extreme situations.
The After Life.........
In common with traditional tales, the ghost of this film remains bound to earth because of the violent nature of his death and the need to resolve the untidy circumstances of his death. Only when treachery is revealed and due punishment is meted out does he find the resolution he needs to move on.
A modern black comedy, the film takes the desperate desire to look young and beautiful and asks, what price would women really be willing to pay for eternal youth? The plot does not attempt to be serious however. The bizarre special effects and grotesque deterioration of the two central characters rapidly take over as the central selling point.
The transition from comic book to movie star has rarely been as neatly presented as in this lighthearted movie. Again, the ghosts remain behind because of unresolved business on earth, or at least that is the belief of the central character, a self professed ghost buster. The film also deals with grief and the need to move on after the loss of a loved one.
An inspiring film about this charismatic Indian leader who led a peaceful but determined protest against the British colonial powers in his country. As a contrast to the action hero style of movie, where violence is met with an even greater show of force, Gandhi insisted that the only appropriate response to brutality was unrelenting but non-violent resistance, even if this cost the life of the protester.
This recent Western is a fairly brutal piece of work, where death is shown as very immediate and only the toughest survive. The plot involves a gun-fighting contest where the prize is gold, which will go to the last survivor. The hero is a woman, but it is the willingness of the participants to gamble their lives in order to win, which makes this film an interesting inclusion on this list.
A group of young medical students begin to experiment with near death experiences in order to improve their understanding of life. Their research begins to have sinister repercussions, but the film's representation of their experiences is interesting as a view of what dying is really like. Viewers can compare this to other accounts elsewhere on this site.
If you want to know more about any of the movies listed, titles are all linked to the excellent Internet Movie Database, which is also where the movie posters came from.
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