I stayed up to the wee hours watching the 1998 film ‘Meet Joe Black.’ From the second I saw it on Netflix, the little voice nagged me to watch. I remember feeling uninspired 20 years ago when it first came out. Slow, the critics and I both said. This time was different, tho. I slipped into a time warp of presence, with no expectation and no time.
I watched, understanding what the writers did. I saw the threads embedded in the story, and why they were done the way they were. And I thought about it for days. I needed to. The world feels upside down. I’ve felt upside down.
In the story, Death (Brad Pitt) shows up in the form of a young man to media mogul William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins), who’s just had a heart attack. He enlists Parrish as a teacher & guide to life on earth. Choosing the man for his experience, wisdom, and fine character. In exchange, he gives Parrish more time to live. The only criteria, he says, is he stays interested.
We expect William Parrish to change, and he does. The surprise is the change in Death, now called Joe Black, self-described as ‘the most lasting and significant element in existence….that’s existed for millenniums, multiplied by eons, compounded by infinity, and taken to the depth of forever’ (Can we even comprehend that?)
The story was brilliantly woven. Each character and side story an integral piece for the whole.
The nature of love is explored. We see it in the love story between Parrish’s daughter and Joe Black we think we’re watching, that turns out to be something else; the relationship between Parrish’s other daughter and her seemingly mismatched husband, so dominant throughout the film, looking superfluous; Parrish knowing so well what love is, and yet, learning more.
All of them with a message about love that Joe Black learns.
Why we love, and how feeling loved may sometimes be the thing that matters. That being seen and accepted for who we are, and having the freedom to be ourselves is at love’s core. And at times, giving is the way we show our love, and to receive it as such. That we can make mistakes, hurt the people we love, and be forgiven.
Even false love. How avarice can steal those close to us. Ones we think most brilliant, loyal, and there when we need them. Avarice shredding all layers to reveal the corrupted heart of a person.
Ultimately, to fight for what we love and care about.
It’s true we humans often only see what we’re emotionally & mentally able to. We evaluate the world from our experience, or yen to learn & understand. Messages and the meaning we make of things sink in when we’re ready. Every step of this film sunk in to my deep Soul.
The film ends with Joe Black and William Parrish meeting on a hill above the site of Parrish’s lavish 65th birthday party. They quietly watch a spectacular display of fireworks. Three days have passed, and in a few moments they’ll leave together.
William Parrish: Beautiful. Isn’t it?
Joe Black: Yes, it is.
William Parrish: It’s hard to let go, isn’t it?
Joe Black: Yes it is, Bill.
William Parrish: Well, that’s life. What can I tell you?
Many years ago the film was panned. Slow. Useless side stories. Too many characters. Look at the marketing and available images to see where the focus was. . .and yes, how it was evaluated. So, they made a shorter TV version, cut out an entire hour. The director refused to put his name on it. I know exactly what they cut, and I know why he refused to put his name on it.
This film was not a remake of ‘Death Takes a Holiday.’ He made this film to show us something: Life is beautiful. Love is the center of everything we are and do, in more ways than we imagine. Death and Life are both about letting go. Stay interested in life.
And I think he may have wanted to make a difference in the world. Something I can’t confirm, and yet, isn’t that why so many of us create? To speak to something inside us we want the world to know.
It was days before that one thought, ‘Life is beautiful,’ left me.
The last time we see Parrish before he crosses over the hill he won’t return from, he pauses, asks Joe Black if he should be afraid. “Not a man like you,” Death says.
Who will I be when the time comes, I wonder. How about you?
Watch it. Settle in. Let go of the story you think you’re watching. Tell me what you see.
“. . .The more we all know about each other, the greater the chance we will survive.”
~ William Parrish (from Meet Joe Black)
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