Julie Chen


Death in Literature and Films

Professor Zeng


The Final Reflection of Characters in Films of Death

The process of life toward death is reluctant itself for the shortness of life forces us to leave, to let go. But there is always a period for people to suffer before they pass away, especially for those suffer from disease. Upon sensing the coming of death, people sudden realize what they should complete in life before leaving through self reflections. The process of reflection is always the focus of Death films and literature because it condenses personal feelings, self-judgment and individual moral arrangement. Therefore, what people have done before death is more important than the death itself. The paper will discuss how the characters in different films face the period of self-awareness and the final departure.


The Attitudes toward Life before the Death knocks on door

All humans are made in a certain meaning, although their meanings might not be the same. Each one has duty to accomplish in their lifetime whether he like it or not. Lucky people know what they don’t want and enjoy in their pursuing of life. As a professor who enjoys life and knowledge, Rémy in ‘The Barbarian Invasions’ tends to hold life passionately although he also feel greatly reluctance after knowing his death. As the most aggressive among the character we discuss here, Rémy knows how to live his life and is good at enjoy his various hobbies. He presents an optimistic character while facing the ill disease; only in font of his son will he shows his anxiety and bitterness.

 It doesn’t seem hard for people to find something to do as a job, even as a majestic mission. But not all men are lucky enough to find a dream or goal to fulfill in his lifetime and it might make life more boring and suffering. Watanabe in ‘Ikiru’ is just an example. Before he knew the dynamic young girl in the same office, he lived in a plain and low level of life by merely thinking about his daily job and finding no passion in it. However, the love toward his only son has made he goes through so many years. Watanabe is a nice but lifeless person, it seems that he didn’t know for a certain purpose to live and feel happy or excited. In ‘Wild Strawberry’ and ‘Wit’, Borg and Bearing both achieve highly in their own careers. Each of them has their own goal and knows clearly what their favorite life styles should be. There’s another thing they share in common: before knowing of death, Borg and Bearing were cold, direct while dealing with people. They seldom express warmness to others. Although what their achievements do benefit people, they do not live passionately and be loved by people around them. The knight in ‘The Seventh Seal’ is much friendlier than these professor characters, but he is still a bitter person, suffering for the inner emptiness in the quest of God’s existence. “My life has been a futile pursuit, a wandering, and a great deal of talk without meaning.” “Why can’t I kill God within me? Why does he live on in this painful and humiliating way even though I curse Him and want to tear Him out of my heart?” After the failure of war and the disaster of Black Death, he drifted place to place, doubting about the purpose of God and didn’t know what he should do. In contrast, the happy, kind couple in the same film must be the liveliest model in this discussion. They live with a humble and optimistic attitude; also know how to enjoy life. Their innocence also stops them from worrying for the matter of death. Therefore, the simple conversation between them and the knight shows two unique ways of attitudes. And that was when the knight feels his own existence because of the couple’s warmness. It seems everyone need to do something to help other feel their own significance, need to interact with somebody so that there will be some proof of self-existence at the moment. However, people just seldom notice that, therefore, they don’t fully realize the significance of seeking for life’s meaning. A series of films with a death theme usually point out the late awareness toward life before people finally realize, nevertheless, the death is already there waiting.

Self-reflection toward Life after the Death knocks on door

When people sense the approach of the Death, it comes to the turning point of life because we are forced to be in a whole new condition, dying. The films we have this semester do not mention the unexpectedness of life and there are no characters died from accident. In this kind of circumstance, whether character suffers from both physical pain and metal bitterness in the period of dying, they all start to reflect themselves with various experiences in the last period of lifetime. At this time, each man begins to seek for the meaning of life and consider how they should do before the final ending. Death itself is a fulfillment, a finish of life. Its cruel schedule makes no man escape, so while humans are waiting to be finally taken away, even the most stubborn people with late self-conscious have to start their introspections. The self-reflection is so serious that it contains no lies. Everyone must face his real happiness, pain, hope or regrets in the rest of his life. Through introspection, dying people change and grow with new attitude, in order to pursue or fulfill their last wishes.

Among those characters in the discussion, the change of Borg in ‘Wild Strawberry’ is the most vivid one among the characters in the discussion. His personality and childhood made his behavior (especially when dealing with others) cold but he was innocent and meant no harm. He didn’t even know he had been accustomed to the cold family characteristics and had inherited this unsympathetic attitude, although he knew that he would rather prefer being alone. But he also says that ‘I’m much too old to lie to myself’ (at the right beginning of the film). Therefore, Borg decides to choose an honest attitude to face his real emotion toward life. That was why Marianne (Borg’s daughter-in-law)’s compliment has soften his attitude and reminds him of the warmness inside a person’s soul. In the scene of Borg and his maiden, we can see Borg’s change. He begins to accept Marianne’s way of dealing with people and in the end of the film they even hug each other closely to express the affection for each other.

Ms. Bearing in ‘Wit’ didn’t know how close a relationship could be built by her warmness for other people, either. However, as she goes through her childhood memories in the experience as a victim of cancer, she regrets for the strict attitude that she used to treat her student. Bearing then realizes it a pity that she didn’t interact with people deeply.

 A fail life is an incomplete one, therefore, all people keep searching for life’s meaning, trying hard to achieve in different goals and fulfill dreams. However, treating people around you well and make them feel their own existence is what everyone can do. Like the married couple in ‘The Seventh Seal’, the young girl in ‘Ikiru’, the nurse in ‘Wit’ and Marianne in ‘Wild Strawberry’ know it well and they also act it out lively, influencing the main character the most. They teach the main characters with action, although they are more humble in social background.

 In ‘The Barbarian Invasions’, there’s also many warm people surrounds Remy, although they have their own problem to solve, the tenderness and merry they give their friend still make Remy’s dying days more fulfilled. It’s adorable that friendship and kinship can make a person’s final ending so meaningful.

The Solution and Fulfillment of Life in the Moment of Death

Once noticing the death is just around the corner, everyone wants to dies innocently in the last period of lifetime. No one lies to himself on the matter of death. Every character in the films is eager to find solution in order to get rid of physical or metal pain through their last self examinations. In the later part of ‘The Seventh Seal’, the knight stops thinking about the existence of God and the inner emptiness, dealing with the Death, then he completes a meaningful deed—to save the touring family with his wit. The knight feels his existence because he has done such a noble deed, not simply by void fantasies or meditations any more.

Watanabe in ‘Ikiru’ is the same. He sensed that he can do his job with an aggressive attitude after he met the young girl who leaves his office and transferred to a toy factory, doing the job that she really liked and reckoned it benefits people. Influenced on her thinking, Watanabe became motive and fearless, trying hard in every aspect simply for the profits of the citizens. He undertook a troublesome project by himself. And he didn’t feel tired or hesitated for any restriction because of the late-coming passion for his life. The mourning scene in the end of the movie includes the women’s gratitude and respects toward Watanabe. And this is also a scene which represents Watanabe’s significance and existence, in an image of gentle temper and strong heart. At the moment in the park, all the sorrow other characters put onto him had disappeared, Watanabe sitting on the bench humming alone. At the point he had already accepted all the bitterness of death in a peaceful, fulfilled atmosphere. Whether Watanabe’s behavior is memorized, what he did is more significant because it warms people and improves more than one person’s life. In the end of the film, Watanabe’s noble behavior encourages his fellowman in the same office; therefore, they started to learn what attitude they should hold while doing their job. A job can only be a formal job, but it also can be a meaningful, profound deed that benefits people, just as the warm smile we give to our acquaintance while meeting on the road, although the happiness lives at the moment and make both of you feel good. Although Watanabe dies lonely, he found this kind of treasure of life, left after sacrificing himself for the citizens’ welfare. By accomplishing this, Watanabe found the final solution to his reluctance and bitterness.

And how does Bearing in ‘Wit’ find her solution as a cancer victim? Let out the science contribution she has accomplished as experimentation, Bearing chooses reading to decrease her pain. Through out the movie the plot deals with John Donne’s poem. Although Bearing has devoted her life to studying poetry about life and death, she realizes she hasn't connected with the heart and soul of John Donne. How can death becomes ‘no more’ and ‘die’ so easily? Even if Bearing can not figure out the answer, she experiences the moment of death tranquilly by the courage that overcomes death, discover the final answer to the quest with her own life.

Rémy’s solution to his anxiety about death is having pleasure with his beloved friends and family, since his son Sébastien has saved him from physical pain of the illness. During his merry final moment, the relationship between Rémy and Sébastien also improves a lot. Surrounded by his beloved people, Rémy dies a delighted way. (It seems that Borg in ‘The Wild Strawberry’ might also has a chance to fulfill a relationship with his son, who is just as a mirror of himself. With Borg’s daughter-in-law’s love and the change of Borg himself, he might save his son from remaining an ‘ice-cold living death’. )

Gratitude and love is the reason why we treat people good and trying to be morally decent and it’s told by all kind of religions. The process of salvation is inner, not by God but by oneself. A merciful people die peaceful not because God will bring his soul to heaven, but because his life is completely finished in a clean, pure situation. Maybe he has not fulfilled all his dreams, but the things he had done truly benefit people around him and that will be enough. Everyone is looking for the depth of life, but almost everyone cannot fulfill what he or she thinks they should achieve in their lifetime. But at least when we are on the moment of death, the feedback to our inner gratitude kindness have turned into acts through our daily love, so that people accept death as what it is, just passing away the boundary of life and death in peace and ease.

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