Moviegoers must step through death's door

Tue Jan 6, 2009 2:15am EST
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By Steven Zeitchik

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - As Jim Morrison sang, "No one here gets out alive." Maybe he was referring to a modern-day movie theater?

Forget popcorn, Milk Duds and escapism. To take a trip to the cinema these days is to confront one's own mortality, as some of the fall's biggest prestige titles have the meaning of life -- more specifically, the end of it -- on their minds.

(Beware: A few spoilers are necessary to explain the, er, end of several films.)

In "Seven Pounds," a character wracked with guilt over the accidental death of his wife begins a long series of preparations to kill himself. The film's climactic scene has him dying dramatically in a bathtub suicide.

"Synecdoche, New York" features a man who, after a string of flawed relationships and an attempt to create a grand work of art, comes face to face with his mortality. The movie ends when a God-like figure gives the one-word command "Die." (He obliges.)

And in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a man heads inexorably toward his own demise equipped with the knowledge of exactly how much time he has left. In the movie's affecting climax, he dies as a baby, closing his eyes for the final time in the arms of the woman he loved.

Watching these films that give new meaning to the phrase "end credits," one is tempted to ask several questions. First, does Hollywood need a hug? And second, what exactly is behind this sudden burst of Yeats-like tendencies?

Over the decades there have been many great, and even more not-so-great, films that feature death as a central element. But most have used it either as a dramatic denouement, like the wartime romance, or as a story's engine, like countless family dramas.   Continued...

<p>Cast member Will Smith attends the premiere of the movie "Seven Pounds" at the Mann Village theatre in Westwood, California December 16, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>