to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:55-56
Variety calls Rob Reiner’s new film an “Ikiru for meatheads.” Although I found myself enjoying the film, mainly due to the comic antics of the two stars, I must admit that the observation is correct, even if this places me in that unenviable category. If you want to delve into the theme of preparation for imminent death, the Akira Kurosawa’s great film is the one to watch. Bucket List merely provides some laughs that turn us away from, rather than add much to, any meditation concerning our mortality. This is a film in which Jack Nicholson is like Bob Hope, and Morgan Freeman assumes the straight man role of Bing Crosby, so enjoyable in the earlier team’s “Road to…” shows.
Freeman is auto mechanic Carter Chambers, sharing a hospital room with Nicholson’s billionaire Edward Cole. This is one of many hospitals that Cole owns. When he tells his ever-present assistant Thomas (Sean Hayes), “I want my own room,” the latter reminds him that he himself had set forth the iron-clad rule against private rooms. “You run hospitals, not health spas. Two beds to a room, no exceptions.” At first the mismatched Chambers and Cole get on each other’s nerves, but as we expect, soon they are bonding after Cole discover’s Chamber’s cast off “Bucket List.” Both have been told that they have cancer and will die in about a year.
College-drop out Chambers tells Cole that the list was suggested by his philosophy professor, a set of goals one wishes to accomplish before dying (kicking the bucket). Telling him that the goals on the list are far too modest, Cole invites his new friend to accompany him on far more ambitious ones. Reluctant at first at the thought of accepting charity, Chambers finally gives in and accepts his friend’s offer. Wife Virginia Chambers (Beverly Todd) is understandably upset that her husband intends to start out on a globe circling series of adventures, rather than spending his remaining time with her and the family. Cole has no such hindrances, being divorced from all four of his wives—the latter whom he calls “sequels” —and he is estranged from his only child, a grown daughter.
They try sky diving, which Chambers hates, and then racing Mustang Cobras, which he loves. Then it’s off to such exotic locales as southern France, South Africa, the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Himalayas, and Hong Kong. Not a bad itinerary, especially for a guy who worked in a garage all of his life to take care of his family. We also think how fortunate that their cancer leaves them strong enough for such endeavors, the main visible effect being Cole’s shaved head, which at times makes him appear to be a sinister-looking Buddha. When they at last return home, Chambers, of course, seeks to effect a reconciliation between Cole and his daughter.
The scene of the funeral is moving, but scarcely profound. I enjoyed the film because it approaches death without a trace of morbidity, this in itself being sort of a tonic. If we can laugh in its shadow, then we are on the way to conquering our fear of death. But we need more basis for our laughter than the filmmakers can provide—and we certainly need a greater dose of reality as well. Let yourself get caught up in the amusing story, putting aside any nagging questions about the on-screen proceedings until you leave the theater. A fun film that can provide a group with a good opportunity for discussing death and the Christian hope of resurrection—but be sure to have 1 Corinthians 15 on hand.
There definitely are spoilers in the following! The leader would do well to read the book of Ecclesiastes in its entirety, as well as 1 Corinthians 15.
1) How are the two characters different, even though they share the same diagnosis? What has Edward Cole’s goals in life apparently been? How might he have been enlightened by the 2nd chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes?
2) What had once been Carter Chambers’ goal in life? Why did he abandon it? Nonetheless, would you trade his life for that of Cole’s?
3) How is Cole’s “bucket list” like what “the fool” whom the author of Ecclesiastes derides throughout his little book? It might be worthwhile to write your own “bucket list.” What are some things you have always wanted to do, but never have found (or taken) the time to do them?
4) What do you think that Edward Cole means when he says, “The last months of his life were the best of mine” ? What did Cole gain from what some might at first see as a friendship between unequals? How has he progressed on the road toward what the author of Ecclesiastes calls “wisdom” ?
5) What do you think of the invitation, “Find the joy in your life” ? How might this relate to what Jesus said to the disciples, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” ? (John 15:11). Readers of Joseph Campbell might compare “joy” to Campbell’s “bliss.” 6) How realistic is this film’s depiction of cancer and its effects? What has been your experience with those who have the disease? How is faith especially important at such a time in facing the disease and death?
7) Compare this to other films that deal with facing death—such as My Life, and, of course, Ikiru. Also, one that deals with a living form of death, Alzheimer’s disease, Away From Her.