Often, my mind wanders to what fiction has to say about life/death, as fiction can often give insight into this tricky subject that we would not ordinarily get from looking at the cold hard facts (facts like, death is at the time the heart officially stops beating).
One such fictional story I watched last night for the first time. Meet Joe Black is a compelling modern take on what matters in life from the perspective of the Angel of Death. Under the alias “Joe Black, The Angel of Death [Brad Pitt] takes on the likeness of an unidentified young man, and tells Bill Parish [Anthony Hopkins] he has come to take Bill’s life. But before he does this, he want Bill to entertain him and introduce him to a life well lived. The Angel of Death wants to get a taste of what life can be like.
With lots of input from the people he encounters, Joe discerns for himself the nature of man (the reasons for man’s likes, dis-likes, fears, loves, disdains, etc.) and grows accustom to human emotion. In the process, Joe falls in love with Bill’s daughter, Susan, and she for him. There are unexpected twists and developments as the story comes to the inevitable conclusion—Bill’s death and the end of Angel of Death’s ‘vacation.’ However, it does this with many surprises along that will challenge the very way you perceive what’s important in this life and the next.
The delicate nature of the Angel of Death could easily be marred by by details of story forming a cheesy Hollywood spoof of reality—or worse. But this film doesn’t. The tough subjects of life, death, and life after death are respectfully honored with the essentials of a Biblical worldview. [Not to say that the characters are clearly defined as Christian; they are obviously imperfect people.] An after life is acknowledged in several ways in both a for of a negative and positive place to spend eternity (although they never call it ‘eternity’ or ‘afterlife’).
I was very much impressed by the performance and screenplay as well. It’s difficult to get around Brad’s Hollywood charms in most of his films, but here he sheds the Pitt-ish qualities that so often distract from the characters he portrays. Anthony Hopkins was first-rate, as usual. And the supporting cast were well suited for the presence of these two stars. I particularly enjoed the performance of Susan Parish by Claire Forlani. I’d never seen here before—that I know of—but she is talented and beautifully feminine to the last.
Another qquality to the romance relationship that I appreciated was that it was clearly understood by the characters that romantic involvement leads to marriage. This is the central difficulty for Joe as he is obviously not human. The relationship was clearly doomed, while at the same time it is clear why it is so difficult for these two to not be together. In a sense, they were made for each other—but obviously they were not. It is very rich with insight into complex matters of God’s sovereignty while not even realizing it.
The Bad (spoilers)
There was little not to like. Still, there is some. If violence concerns you, there is a brief (two seconds or less) scene of a car accident that is shown for all it’s glory. Not blood. Just a disturbing moment while a person is knocked around like a rag doll.
And due to the depth of human emotion the film explores for a being usually totally removed from human emotion, there is some sexuality. This can easily be skipped with a DVD copy, or better yet an editted copy to be family-friendly.
The bad doesn’t cancel out the good—by far. This is a greatly entertaining and thought-provoking film, and I wouldn’t mind having a copy of it in my own movie library. I give it 3.5 stars out of 4.