I believe in some sort of afterlife because I tell myself that’s the only way I’ll ever be able to spend any quality time with Abraham Lincoln. It really is the only way unless time travel comes down the pipeline but I’ve decided to put more faith in dying than in bending the space time continuum. Call me a romantic. Speaking of romance, I’m terrified of dying. I’m dying right now. Did you miss it? I just died a bit, and there I go again. I’m not unhappy but I know I’m not happy and the thought that keeps circling the drain of my soul is a combination of “This can’t be all there is,” followed by “fix it.” I don’t now what “it,” is though, so now I have to add a third thought “Figure ‘it’ out.”
There are rules and guidelines everywhere, literally signs on the street “No Parking,” and figuratively signs in your heart if you have a fairly accurate moral compass “No murdering, no really, don’t kill anyone.” Sometimes a sign will come from the most unlikely of places, like Albert Brooks’ film Defending Your Life.
For the uninitiated, a brief synopsis. Albert Brooks is an advertising agent living and working in Los Angeles when his life is cut tragically short by a car accident. He is then whisked off to Judgement City (a place a lot of us currently reside) where he is on trial to see what his next move is. He quite literally has to defend his life. If he lived a good and decent life, mostly free of fear (CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE?) he will go to Heaven. If it is decided he did not make the best of choices he’ll be recycled to begin anew. Same shit, different birth.
I have set up camp at fear. I live in fear. I bought property in fear. I’ve commissioned a house in fear. I’m in it for the long haul. And before I watched this movie in my adult life, I didn’t quite realize how it was affecting my life. Fear comes in all kinds of neat shapes and sizes. It’s the Forever 21 of emotions. I’ve never spent time in a hospital because of a debilitating illness, so I’ve been spared the life-threatening fear pencil skirt. Instead I have a shit ton of self-imposed fears that get me exactly nowhere in life or more specifically, on my couch. All the time. Fear is insidious (it’s also the hit film Insidious, very spooky guys!). It will poison every aspect of your life and bury itself so deeply in your tiny lizard brain that you don’t even realize it’s been doing all the goddamn navigating.
So, I locate Defending Your Life one day, a movie I know I enjoyed in my youth and my self-sabotaging mind was blown, fellatiated if you will. Side note: If this fear-death-fun cycle seems a bit heavy-handed let me remind you of the fact that Albert Brooks is very much a comedy genius. Look at this Twitter account. Of all the Brooks out there (Mel, Brothers, the dude who hung himself in The Shawshank Redemption), Albert is my favorite.
I hope the Apple-Beats deal goes through cause if it doesn’t we will see the headline “Beats Off”
— Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) May 9, 2014
In Defending Your Life Brooks is on trial, for living, but more specifically for living in fear. The trial itself is comprised of Brooks being shown scenes from his own life. The prosecuting attorney pulls up moments in his life when he did or did not do something because he was afraid.
I can easily think of 10,000 times in my life when I’ve lied, cheated, been cruel, didn’t show up for something, DID show up for something, hurt someone, hurt myself and so on and so forth because I was scared. Those are the snapshots from my life the prosecuting attorney would show me. I shudder to think of that. It scares me. Would this moment be flashed across a screen? Am I being filmed right now. GET OUTTA HERE GOD. *shoves camera out of face Alec Baldwin style*
His defense attorney counters with parts of his life when he was brave, selfless, a caring soul. I’ve been those things too but man do they feel few and far between. It’s clear during the course of Brooks’ trial that he is NOT going to Heaven this time around, instead he’ll be sent back to Earth to give it the ol’ probably been to college a thousand times because of reincarnation try. The one saving grace of this whole situation comes in the form of Meryl Streep who is also on trial. Streep is the opposite of Brooks in every way imaginable. She’s daring, gregarious, and doesn’t give a shit about what others think of her.
We only see one scene from her trial and it’s pretty goddamn heroic. Think rescue people from a burning building heroic. Seeds of doubt are planted in Brooks’ brain by Brooks himself because who is better at fucking you up than you! He begins to tell himself he is not worthy of the new found love he is discovering with Streep. FEAR AGAIN. I think about all the relationships I’ve ruined because I was convinced I wasn’t good enough for this other person. I was afraid they wouldn’t love me or worse I was afraid they would, then I picture those God-awful scenes being laid out before me and I cringe.
Defending Your Life forced me to examine my choices but more importantly it forced me to examine the choices I wasn’t making, and why. What am I so afraid of? That which doesn’t kill me, didn’t try very hard. And what’s so scary about death? It levels the playing field. We are all definitely going to die someday unless vampires exist (Dear God please let vampires exist). This film, this comedic film which was written and directed by the man who also voiced Jacob the Tiger in Dr. Doolittle (if time travel is ever possible someone HAS to bring 1980’s Eddie Murphy to meet 2015 Eddie Murphy’s career) threw me into an existential crisis. Great! No really, this is great.
You find courage in the oddest of places and I found it in Defending Your Life because it is your life. You should absolutely defend it. What is more important than living? A wise man once said “Get busy living or get busy dying,” and I’m definitely going to do both. One of those things I have no control over but the other, the other is entirely in my hands. Spoiler Alert: I can’t control the death part unless I’m a vampire and DEAR GOD PLEASE LET VAMPIRES EXIST.