Normal death creeps into Hollywood films


There have always been plenty of deaths in Hollywood films, more than you’d expect in real life. People are shot, blown up, stabbed, and eviscerated. Sometimes death is central to the story, but I was interested by how death crept casually into what might be called a “sub-romcon.”

The Intern is one of those films you watch on a long flight but wouldn’t watch at any other time. Robert de Niro plays a 70 year old senior intern who goes to work for Anne Hathaway’s wildly successful Internet company. Hathaway can’t see the point, but in no time–surprise, surprise– he becomes indispensable to her. Not only does he sort out the company, he saves her marriage. The usual Hollywood stuff.

But two scenes interested me.

In one de Niro takes a woman to a funeral as a first date. They were due to have lunch, but the funeral came up. We see the coffin brought in, and then we see them coming home from what I call the wake but they called “the sugar” (I think). Is that a Jewish thing? I suspect so, but I’m on a plane so I can’t look it up. Everything had been a hit. The woman, a masseuse, had massaged the widow’s back; they’d enjoyed themselves.

In the second scene de Niro and Hathaway are on her hotel room bed attacking the minibar. She’s emotional, worried about an interview she has the next day. But then she confesses to de Niro that she’s worried about more, her husband is having an affair. De Niro already knows. What worries her most about separating–crazy as it sounds–is that she might be buried alone. De Niro says that she can be buried with him and his dead wife: “We have room.”

Neither scene was plausible, particularly the second one, and they weren’t essential to the plot. I imagine a Hollywood producer saying: “We need a little death in the film. Not too much, just a light touch. It’s the coming thing. People are talking about it more. Our research has shown it. It could be the baby boomers. We want to be on the cutting edge, leading culture.”

Chicken says nonsense, it was just a device for adding to the sentiment.  But, I say, they could have done that in some other way.


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