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Meet Joe Black (A Film Review)

Updated on December 4, 2014

About The Film

"Meet Joe Black", directed by Martin Brest, was produced by Universal Pictures and City Light Films. It starred Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Clair Forlani, Jake Weber, Marcia Gay Harden, and Jeffrey Tambor.

William Parrish, a highly successful and well loved businessman, near the eve of his 65th birthday has an unusual encounter with Death. Being made to understand that his passing is certain, he is offered an arrangement where, in exchange for more time, he is to act as Death's guide as he explores the world of the living. After appropriating a body, Death, with the guidance of Mr. Parrish, finds out what it's like to live as a human being and discovers more than he ever expected.

This film has been identified as a remake of the 1934 Paramount Pictures film "Death Takes A Holiday", starring Fredric March, Evelyn Venable, and Guy Standing.

The Review

One of the things that I found particularly enjoyable is the way in which both William Parrish and Death (Joe) are introduced into the film. Mr. Parrish first appears in the film being awakened by pain that brings the question of his impending mortality to his mind. Without actually voicing the question, he receives an audible answer in the affirmative. No one is with him. I thought the etherial creepiness was a really nice touch. From this point, Mr. Parrish is slowly brought to the understanding that someone is indeed communicating with him. But it isn't until he comes face to face with the person behind the voice that he realizes that it's Death that's been communicating with him. Having appropriated a body which facilitates this "face-to-face", Death expresses the desire to explore life as a human being and offers an arrangement in which Mr. Parrish acts as a guide in exchange for more time.

Upon his arrival, which happens to coincide with a family dinner, Death decides to meet William Parrish's family, including his youngest daughter who, just that morning, happened to briefly meet (without getting his name) the man who's body Death appropriated. As a part of the arrangement, Mr. Parrish must not reveal Death's true identity. He is told that doing so would be a deal breaker. He is instead introduced as Joe Black.

The rest of the film follows Joe's exploration of what it means to be human. With Mr. Parrish as his guide, he experiences first hand the nuances of social interactions and human experiences. Beginning with his introduction to the family, Joe's experience of human life has all the amusement typical to the depiction of contemporary life being experienced for the first time. In the course of this exploration and experience, Joe (Death) shows an awkward, almost childlike innocence and wonder. This innocence and wonder serves to endear him to just about everyone he meets except for Mr. Parrish's "number one" Drew. The animosity that develops between Joe and Drew serve to create a situation which tests Mr. Parrish's resolve where his arrangement with Joe (Death) is concerned.

That fact that the body that Death (Joe) has appropriated belonged to someone that Mr. Parrish's youngest daughter, Susan, actually met serves as a catalyst in the development of a relationship between them and emotions that, before this arrangement, were completely unknown to him. The fact that these emotions and experiences are unknown to him writes itself across his face. This serves to intensify Susan's attraction to him. In the course of interacting with her, Joe (Death) finds himself attracted to Susan as well. It is at this point that Joe (Death) discovers and experiences, for the first time, the captivating power of love. It turns out to be more to contend with than he expected.

This film (at least in part) is classified as a fantasy. And, being the escapist that I am, I have something of an affinity for fantasy films. So, that being said, it should be expected that I'd have to exert a little effort in being objective about this movie. On the whole I found this film to be particularly entertaining. I especially enjoyed Brad Pitt's portrayal of someone completely oblivious to the experiences of comtemporary life being introduced to them for the first time. There are a few moments in the film where Death (Joe) reveals (or, at least hints at) the true nature of who he is as a personification of "Death" and the scope of what it means to be who he is. He (Brad Pitt) had a way of blending Joe's oblivion with the kind of knowledge and power typical to the personification of "Death" that's been presented here. But, if I'm to attempt to be objective, I have to question the overall success of that blending. I found myself having to suspend certain expectations that I thought would be common sense to a personified entity with the kind of knowledge and power ascribed to it. Not doing so would have prevented me from enjoying the film as much as I did. (And I really did enjoy the film.)

And, speaking of suspended expectations, there's the matter of Mr. Parrish and his family. Contemporary life being what it is today, William Parrish and his family, being who they were in this film, are kind of out of place. The kind of man that William Parrish is portrayed to be, and the kind of family he has, you would expect to see in a film from the 1930s or 1940s. Now, for myself, I found that to be quite refreshing. But, I think that kind of serves to narrow the appeal of the film.


As far as recommending the film is concerned, bottom line, I'd have to be a bit restrictive in my consideration of how and to whom I might recommend this film. I get that it's a fantasy film and that reality is not exactly the point. But, given the kind of viewers that I've associated with, and what I've seen and heard of the preferences of the public at large, even for fantasy films, there is a level of reality expected. No matter how deep the level of fantasy, there is an expectation of some level of reality. And, if that expectation is not met, the audience loses interest.

Now, as for myself, I loved this movie. But, in the course of recommending it, I'd have to restrict that recommendation to people I know that share my preference for fantasy films on the same or a similar level as myself. (I've had some actual experience where this is concerned.) For anyone with an appreciation for fantasy that naturally suspends certain levels of common sense and is unfettered by any expectation of reality, I would heartily recommend this movie. For anyone without this kind of appreciation, not so much.


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