The Bucket List – A Faith Review of the Motion Picture (2007)

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‘FIND THE JOY in your life’ is the inspirational by-line to the movie, The Bucket List. This movie has obvious faith overtones and is a message for all. It challenges the “walls” that people might put up in resistance to acquiring faith because it ponders the meaning to life that none of us can shirk off.

When two men from vastly different worlds are shocked into the reality of facing their imminent deaths, they share a common view of life, and a bond develops as they meet in hospital sharing the same room.

There are sweet and sour ironies all throughout the film demonstrating that of anyone, God often has the last laugh; though it’s never really ever at our expense. To begin with, Edward Cole (Nicholson), who frequently quotes: “I run hospitals, not health spas; two beds to a room, no exceptions,” is aghast to find his terminal illness has confined him to a hospital room with another person. This ends up being a huge blessing to Cole; often we’re surprised to find things we thought we’d hate, come to love us back as we least expected.

The movie’s sub-plot is about faith; it plumbs the meaning to life in the context of how it’s spent. Life is fleeting. Carters says, “Forty-five years goes by pretty fast,” only to hear Cole answer, “Like smoke through a keyhole.” Another famous writer puts it this way: “You won’t be young forever. Youth [life in fact] lasts about as long as smoke.”[1] We only have so long to reconcile to life and become at peace with it, before it all vanishes. It’s only when we ‘become at peace’ with life that we can really begin to draw joy from it.

Cole says poignantly, “I envy people who have faith, I just can’t get my head around it.” Chambers’ (Freeman) comeback is something special: “Maybe your head’s in the way?” Most people with a faith problem can’t see that it is within themselves that the problem lies. The head’s in the way of the heart. It is only with a willingness to let this stumbling block mentality go, that there is any chance for “salvation.” It’s the source, means, and cause of the preservation or deliverance of your life. Many people cannot work out that salvation is not just about heaven and the afterlife; it’s as much about life in this life as anything else. We’re saved from living life without God when we’re saved and when we practice faith.

In Chambers’ letter to Cole he tells him: “My pastor always says our lives are streams flowing into the same river towards whatever heaven lies in the mist beyond the falls. Find the joy in your life, Edward. My dear friend, close your eyes and let the waters take you home.” Freeman’s character is such a boon for Cole. He opens him up to the meaning to life; which is to simply have an open heart. The open heart receives. It receives all that God intended for it. When Cole died “His eyes were closed but his heart was open.” He was saved.

These two unlikely friends enjoyed a bond at the butt-end of their lives that they’d perhaps never experienced with any other person. Fleeting as it was, it was (meaning ‘it actually happened’). It was an experience that changed and transformed the spirituality of both men as attested by Cole’s eulogy at Chambers’ funeral: “The last months of his life were the best months of mine. He saved my life… And he knew it before I did.” What a fantastic legacy to leave in a fellow human being’s life!

Perhaps one of the most enduring messages of this piece is about time; how quickly life fades. As one reviewer put it, in the words of Oscar Wilde from The Picture of Dorian Gray: “The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.”[2] It would be true to say that no one is ready to die, least of all the young. But death must come to all, eventually. Before it comes, however, we need to strive to find the joy in our life. Find God.

© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Eugene Peterson’s The Message Paraphrase of biblical Ecclesiastes 11:10.

[2] Sourced from:

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