ByQuinton Ridley, writer at
i love movies

Another golden entry in the Robert Zemeckis canon.

This is the story of an aging actress (Meryl Streep) and her jealous friend
(Goldie Hawn) who compete in everything throughout their lives, eventually making it to Beverly Hills as warring Divas. And logically it breaks down into a war over physical beauty and the heart of a man (Bruce Willis). Neither cares for him, but use him to their own end. Things become surreal as Hollywood cults, the fountain of youth and zombification get involved.

It all plays out as a satire on women who let the patriarchal society define and corrupt them into shallow, self-commodifying , living Barbie dolls. Like Beyonce, Britney Spears, Madonna today or Joan Crawford long ago, these women are desperate for attention and the limelight. And whatever talent they have becomes overshadowed by drama, attempts at remaining young and relevant, vanity and overall a divorce from reality. They become so wrapped up in themselves that they lose the value being a true woman. They think a woman is her looks, her fans, her romantic suitors and her success. Not her honesty, her soul or good will towards others. The shrewness, the man-hating, the belittling behavior, the self-obsession and the ignorance of self in Streep and Hawn's characters are all in the name of a misplaced and psychotic "girl power". They will sell their souls just to appear better than others, without having to actually grow as people.

In the end, they are shown how hollow this quest for external beauty is, paling in comparison to the search for internal beauty. But they reject the "sentimental" moral and end up as snickering old Church women, crowing at the misfortune of others and in denial about their faded beauty and devolution into immortal jokes. The final visual gag of the film is grotesque and poetic at the same time.

Isabella Rossellini as the evil temptress granting our characters their wishes
Isabella Rossellini as the evil temptress granting our characters their wishes

Robert Zemeckis has an incredible list of films under his belt: Back to the Future 1,2 and 3, Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Forest Gump, Contact, Tales from the Crypt, What Lies Beneath, Cast Away and he wrote 1941. Right below his George Lucas and mentor Steven Spielberg, Zemeckis has shaped film's pop cultural landscape more than any directors of their generation. He's done it with great technical craft, sharp cultural satire and eye-catching effects.

Underlying all of this is a big hearted moral code, a philosophical edge that Zemeckis brings to stories about selfish, corrupted Americans who need an adventure, usually bizarre and frightening, to realize how important life is. He doesn't hold punches on any target, not even women. Its rare that a male director/writer approaches the delicate issues of female villainy and male victimization without being non-offensive, unfair pr accidentally sexist. He does it by making a fool of both sexes evenly, by remaining honest and making this film fun above all else.

It all seems personal to him. There are hints at the real life inspiration for Death Becomes Her in the narrative tropes: good girls left at the altar, demeaning liar ex-wives, castrating mothers, violent repressed lesbians, bitter old women. Zemeckis purges his frustration with these female characters without bias or over-sensitivity, smartly siding with the good women and men who fall victim to life's biggest bitches. He allows Bruce Willis, usually the tough and cool action hero, to play the surrogate Zemeckis, at the will and whim of the cruel castrating women playing at his puppet strings. A great deal of power in this film is how it exposes the male weakness to a controlling woman and the female's unique playing cards in sexual politics.

I love this cult classic. Its not your typical Hollywood comedy. It has a classic screwball style with Black Comedy undertones and a post-modernity that embraces the then-new film world of expensive digital effects, big name actors cast against type and post-feminism. Bravest of all, Death Becomes Her openly bashes the cultural infection of weird Hollywood religion by playing off of (or is it playing into) the American fear that the ruling class have access to hidden scientific wonder, supernatural knowledge and horrific powers that society should not be toying with. When do we play God? How much power is too much? Who among us is privy to it? It presents a fevered, strange, paranoid narrative but it makes it clear that its as much a joke as it is a serious warning. The lives of bored, spoiled Americans has more in common with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein than we realize.This written-off film is a deep dissection of power-driven people, how they abuse it and why they are so corrupt and sad, even if they are supposedly "better". The chief question is Who ultimately wins when women figuratively and literally tear each other apart? Zemeckis answers with bitter irony: Men.


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