‘Meet Joe Black’ (1998)
“As certain as death and taxes.”
“Death and taxes?”
“Death and taxes?”
“What an odd pairing.”
The phenomenon of death and taxes being the only reliable certainties is commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, yet Daniel Defoe’s reference predates the eminent Mr Franklin, who has enough quotes flying around the internet, to be fair. It pops up very appropriately in ‘Meet Joe Black’, the story of Death (Brad Pitt) donning a body for a few days to sample the diametrically opposed state of ‘life’. Curious about life, he slips into the ill-fated body of a random man who was careless while crossing the road.
Innocence Meets Omniscience
Despite his eternal existence, he is delightfully naive and chooses Mr Bill Parrish (Anthony Hopkins) as his mentor for his brief stay on Earth. He explains to Bill that the time to shuffle off his mortal coil has arrived, but he can borrow some time in return for a whistlestop tour of life.
The pairing of Hopkins and Pitt in this quirky and glitzy fantasy drama is clever and perfect. Listening to Hopkins’ voice is like listening to your favourite song constantly being reworked so you never tire of it. You will warm to his character of Bill Parrish and never once begrudge the millions he has made, because Hopkins gives us a loving, honest, decent man who deserves and is grateful for his charmed life. But this is Brad Pitt’s movie. As well as being the embodiment of Death, Joe is also the embodiment of antithesis. Innocence meets omniscience; death meets life; vulnerability meets power. When he falls for Bill’s daughter Susan - delicately yet perfectly played by Claire Forlani -despite his seemingly boundless intelligence, Pitt brings inexperienced shyness to the role which is beautifully manifest in their first intimate moment. He gives Joe a verve for life which polarises his true, dark self and despite his omnipotence, you never stop being on his side because Pitt strips him back to human vulnerability. One of his finest moments is his easy Jamaican patois when conversing with a sick woman from Jamaica … before realising that his presence in the hospital “is not quite appropriate”.
Infinitely Quotable Script
At three hours long, ‘Meet Joe Black’ is a hefty commitment, but a mere droplet of time in the existence of Death, which spans “millenniums, multiplied by eons, compounded by time without end.” Praise must go to the scriptwriters, for creating an infinitely quotable script. Bill and Joe grab the best lines, offering a cornucopian supply of beautifully crafted quotes between them, managing to strike chords without making you feel like you are listening to Facebook.
Director Martin Brest takes an unsavoury part of our lives - death - and makes you like him, by materialising him in Joe. Joe pays the world a visit as a student but you wonder who is teaching whom …
“Multiply it by infinity, and take it to the depth of forever, and you will still have barely a glimpse of what I'm talking about.”
“Those were my words.”
“They're mine now.”