Different portrayals of funerals in popular films

Cinema Cinematography Curve

This week is the start of the Cannes 2017 Film Festival, so we decided to take a look at how funerals have been portrayed on the big screen.
Warning: There will be spoilers ahead.

9. My Girl

My Girl is a 1991 drama that focuses on the life of a young girl growing up in a funeral home with her single parent father. The film’s protagonist, Vada (Anna Chlumsky) has a fascination with death but this fascination becomes short lived after her best friend, Thomas (Macaulay Culkin), passes away after he is attacked by a swarm of bees – triggering an extreme allergic reaction. As well as being a truly heart breaking piece of cinema, it is more than likely one of the first funeral scenes many people growing up in the ‘90s would have seen in a film. It’s memorable for its open casket and the white suit that Thomas is dressed in, as he lays at the front of the chapel. The clip above also highlights the different ways in which people process grief, especially children and how they understand death.

8. Batman V Superman

Superman is the ultimate super being, so it came as a shock to see the character die at the end of Zack Snyder’s superhero flick. In the movie, Superman had gone from a controversial extra-terrestrial being to a certified homeland hero and his bravery was celebrated at his funeral. Buried in a stylish black coffin emblazoned with a silver Superman logo, a possible hint to his resurrection, as seen in the comics, the hero is given a military style send off. An American flag is placed over his coffin and it’s lowered into the ground while US Army tanks fire rockets and planes fly overhead.
Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, is buried at the same time back in his hometown of Smallville. We see a small wooden coffin lead through a corn field by a horse and cart followed by a procession of people in tow.

7. Return of the Jedi

When Darth Vader turns his back on the dark side and strikes down the emperor to save his son’s life, it is one of the most character redeeming moments in cinema. Vader dies in Luke’s arms just moments later and it is Luke who is the only person to attend the funeral of Lord Vader. In a dark forest, Luke stands in solitude and places a torch upon his father’s funeral pyre, cremating Lord Vader much like the Romans and Vikings did for their great warriors. The camera slowly zooms out and spacecraft fly overhead releasing a series of fireworks.

6. Heathers

Heathers is a dark comedy film, in which a pair of troubled teenagers (Christian Slater and Winona Ryder) kill the queen bee of the high school and stage it as a suicide. At the titular Heather’s funeral there is a clash of generations, the parents sit silently dressed in black, the priest makes harsh generalisations about teenage life and the teenagers each step up to Heather’s coffin to say some final words, some somewhat unsavoury. These stark comparisons show how attitudes to death change over the course of our lives.

5. Man on the moon

Andy Kaufman may be remembered as one of the greatest pranksters of all time, so much so that when he passed away many refused to believe it wasn’t a hoax. In the 1999 biopic, Man on the Moon, we see a glimpse inside his funeral. Andy is propped up in front of a church, full of his celebrity peers, above him a large screen plays a pre-recorded video. He makes his congregation laugh before engaging them in song, both he and his congregation singing ‘In this friendly, friendly world’ together.

4. Four Weddings and a Funeral

Four Weddings and a Funeral features one of the most emotionally charged funerals ever put on film. It is painstakingly authentic, Matthew (John Hannah) opts not to read his own words but uses those of WH Auden, reading aloud his poem Stop the Clocks as he stands at the foot of the coffin. This poem is a popular choice for funerals today and Hannah delivers it perfectly. It is sombre, it is subtle and it is sad.

3. Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan

Just how do they do funerals on a spaceship? After Spock perishes in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the crew gather around a black coffin, covered partially by a flag bearing the federation’s logo. Captain James T Kirk delivers an emotionally charged eulogy and just as he says his final line, “Of all the souls I’ve encountered, his was the most … human”, the coffin makes it way off the ship on a conveyor belt. Once out of sight it is fired from the U.S.S Enterprise where it disappears behind a planet close by and explodes to reveal a huge supernova.

2. Gandhi

Gandhi had around 400,000 people in attendance at his funeral. Film maker Richard Attenborough knew he had a job on his hands to show the magnitude of this real-life icon’s funeral. He had to employ a vast number of extras to achieve this incredible procession. In the scene, Gandhi lays on a bed of flowers as he is carried to his final resting place. People follow him, dressed in a variety of colours, some walking and others on horseback.

1. The Vikings

A film called The Vikings could not have passed without including a Viking funeral. Kirk Douglas plays Einar, who has unfortunately met his end just prior to the film’s final scene, which sees him “buried.” Einar is carried to a ship on the side of a mountain, he is slowly placed in the boat while archers stand by with flaming arrows. The boat is pushed into the sea and the archers let their arrows fly, setting it alight in a blaze of glory, right before the credits roll.