So I’m convinced the founder of Chipotle came back from Judgment City with the idea for his restaurant.
Defending Your Life starring Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, and Albert Brooks who also wrote and directed the film. The 1991 movie tells the story of Daniel Miller who dies in a car crash and wakes up in Judgment City. Judgment City is a stopping point where lives are put on a pseudo trial. If the person has lived a life facing fear and conquering it they can advance to another plane of existence. If they failed this test then they get to go back to Earth and try again.
Honestly I’m not sure how Albert Brooks got this film green lit. It has a completely unique look at life after death, merging some Eastern ideals with Western ones. Brook’s character, Daniel, lead a fairly normal North American white male life. He had a job, but wanted more money from it. He had a wife and had been divorced. He was also a bit of a klutz, which might be part of the reason why I loved this movie so much when I was younger, because I’m a huge klutz as well. It’s a little weird that I found myself watching this film every single time it came on HBO when I was a kid. I would have been eleven when it made it to the paid channel, and I can’t imagine my eleven year old liking this film. Maybe it was the love story and the chemistry Meryl Streep and Brooks have that always kept me engaged.
At the core of the film and its strange setting is its love story. Streep plays Julia, who unlike Daniel has lead a life unquestioningly facing her fears. There is never really a doubt about her moving on or going back to Earth. She is going to go forward. She had a great life and is ready for the next test. She seems to have everything together, but is instantly drawn to Daniel. Watching it again I still bought into their love story, but the two characters are opposites. It goes to just how strong the acting, writing, and directing is for the film that we never really question how these two very different people can fall so quickly in love.
The setting might have also helped with the believability of the love story. Judgment City feels like a convention town. The people with their life on trial can go anywhere in the city and get amazing food quickly. They just ask and it is immediately available and is prepared perfectly. There are no repercussions on what you can eat. You will never gain any weight, because well you’re dead. There are touristy things to do around the city, like the past live pavilion. The individuals who are defending their life can view the people they have been in previous lives. It is one of the best scenes in the film, and has always stuck out to me when remembering watching it. It still holds up and I chuckled through the scene again while watching it.
Everything is so seamless in the film, and you buy into the world Brooks creates without much question. This is helped along with the actual full time residents of Judgment City. The defenders and prosecutors who try each life also serve as a de facto guide for the people who have died. They explain what they will be doing and why the process is the way it is. It is a great way for the film to give the audience and the character an exposition dump and clear up some sticky points about certain issues with the process. Where are the kids Daniel asks? Which his defender, played by the great Rip Torn, responds when a child dies they just move on. How many chances do you get to go back? No clear answer is given, but there is a limit, and then a soul is just retired. There is no hell in this afterlife scenario and the only segment of people not mentioned are violent criminals. Watching it when I was younger I didn’t notice this, and now it is easy to assume those souls just get retired and don’t get to exist anymore.
I have a soft spot in my heart for this film. It is one that has stuck with me because of the great concept and love story in movie. If you haven’t seen it you can watch it on Netflix right now. I think any generation can enjoy the film even if the décor is very late 80’s early 90’s. It even has a mini-mall joke which is dated, but still funny. I would say this film is well Worth Seeing simply for its unique take on life after death. Give it a watch if you have never seen it.
If you have seen Defending Your Life did you like it? When was the last time you watched it, and does it still stick out in your mind? Does it sound interesting if you have never heard of the film before? Comment and let me know.