Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Bucket List -- Accomplishing Life's Goals

When it comes to actors Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson count among the best still living. Both are 71. Both are Oscar winners (Freeman in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby, and Nicholson thrice: in 1976 for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, in 1984 for Terms of Endearment, and then again in 1998 for As Good as it Gets). So, when they star together in a Rob Reiner comedy you expect good things (think Reiner's Princess Bride or When Harry Met Sally). As it turns out, The Bucket List is a C-movie: corny, cheesy, and cutesy. It has some laugh-out-loud lines, one cry-out-loud scene, and some very ham acting from Jack. It is a Freeman frappaccino with Nicholson as the whipped cream on top.

Nicholson plays billionaire Edward Cole, who makes a business of out buying hospitals, improving the efficiency (i.e., reducing the number of doctors-to-patients ratio) and ensuring every room has two patients. No exceptions! So, when he comes down with terminal brain cancer even he cannot get a private room . . . and he owns the place! It turns out that his room-mate is Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman), who is also dying. But as a blue-collar worker, Carter cannot get a doctor to talk to him and has to endure the awful hospital food while watching Cole enjoy the best deli food LA can offer, both on the way down and on the way up again.

At first, Cole and Chambers do not get along. They are from different sides of the tracks. But as Cole experiences the aftermath of brain surgery and chemo therapy, he begins to warm to the man who has family visitors.

When Carter throws a balled up sheet from a yellow legal pad onto the floor, Edward picks it up and starts to read it. It is Carter's "bucket list" -- all the things he wants to do before he kicks the bucket. But it is too short, and Edward starts to laugh. He can come up with a "better list"! So, with this spirit of competition, they start to come up with a better bucket list. And with Edward's money, they can actually make them happen. Against his wife's wishes, Carter embarks on this journey of discovery with his new-found friend, Edward.

In one sense, Bucket List is a road-trip of sorts, a "travelogue journey" to accomplish life's goals, or at least the adventures one puts off in life. From sky-diving, to racing classic Mustangs on a race-track, this odd couple brings a playful chemistry to this final chapter in their lives.

Along the way, Edward reveals some secrets from his life. And when Carter calls him on it, challenging him to make some final life adjustments, the insecurity and fear in Edward's heart emerges. When Carter tells him, "Everyone's afraid to die alone," he replies, "I'm not everyone! This was supposed to be fun. That's all it ever was." Even in dying, he was merely living for fun. Faith and family were not part of that equation.

At one point, as Carter muses on the magnificent stars he sees from Edward's private jet, he begins a conversation about God. But Edward has little time for faith: "I envy people who have faith. I just can't get my head around it." He does not believe in a god, but thinks this is a win-win situation, since if it turns out there is one, and he finds this out in the after-life, then he will have had his cake and eaten it, too. This is, of course, to completely ignore the biblical evidence that this life is a precursor to the one to come. And our destiny there, is based on our life and decisions here. We will all bend our knee to Jesus, either now, voluntarily, or then involuntarily (when we will wished we had earlier).

In the end, their journey is one of accomplishment and discovery, or rediscovery. Edward became the man he never was, having ridden out four wives, never giving himself to anyone but himself in his striving for money and power. He had to take time away to discover himself. In contrast, Carter becomes the man he was, but had drifted away from amidst the hubbub of 45 years of marriage, raising kids, serving others, and giving himself away to everyone but himself. He had to take time away to rediscover himself.

As we approach life, we often disregard the number of our days, months, years or decades.We take them for granted, assuming we have an endless supply. But we don't, and we fool ourselves. It is only when faced with our own mortality that we realize the fragility and finitude of life. Life is "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (Jas. 4:14). There may be things we want to do, goals we want to accomplish, people we want to see or reconcile with, but these are relegated to the bottom of our to-do lists, deferred to the undetermined future. The Bucket List reminds us that life is terminal. We all have a due date, an expiration date, that may be sooner than we think. We need to face up to this and live each day as if it were our last. We need to take time to enjoy life, and not put off those things that make life worth living.

Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs

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