“Should I be afraid?”
“Not a man like you.”
Meet Joe Black is a great movie for several reasons. A powerful love story. An insightful look at what life is about. And oddly enough a story about a businessman making sure his life work remains great. (Also the only time in history the IRS was even tangentially heroic…and not, you know, worthy of the treatment at the end of Braveheart).
Now some might think that the story about the businessman trying to keep hold of his business when he knows for certain he will die in the immediate future is really a secondary plot line—that the love story of Death (Joe Black) and Susan is far more important than Anthony Hopkins business tales. And people who edit movies for TV and in-flight movies would agree with those people. However the director Martin Brest thought that it so ruined the movie that he got the Director’s Guild to agree that his name could be removed from the cut without the business story line—the Director’s Guild receives hundreds, some years, thousands of requests to have directors names removed because the director was unhappy with the result…virtually all of them are denied.* So that this was granted tells you that this plot line involving Hopkins’ character of Bill Parish is absolutely important.
Why? Or as Death puts it:
Joe Black: Bill, why at this juncture are you letting yourself be so concerned by business matters?
William Parrish: I don’t want anybody buying up my life’s work! Turning it into something it wasn’t meant to be. A man wants to leave something behind. And he wants it left behind the way he made it. He wants it to be run the way he ran it, with a sense of honor, of dedication, of truth. Okay?
Because this film shows us that life isn’t just about love. It is about life. The big and the small things (like peanut butter). And this movie shows the depth of love, not just romantic love, but the love of parents and children, of friendship, of siblings, and of life itself. Love is one of those massively important things…but so is accomplishment. In fact, if you look at the needs of people’s accomplishments, achievements, the attainment of goals is, according to psychologist Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, is the next thing we need to achieve in our quest for Happiness.
Now the liberals out there are probably rolling their eyes when they hear attainment of goals or achievement, as they think that you attain goals you must do so by taking from others. They see a world of static wealth and prosperity, where if I am to be successful another must fail, where if I am to be wealthy another must be poor, where if I am to be happy another must be miserable. Which is why they must tear down the strong, the successful, the happy, because in their warped mind those people are taking strength, success and happiness from others. Reality tends to be quite different. Whereas historically most economic and political systems have done the liberal thing and only shifted money and resources around, or at best created wealth at an astoundingly slow rate…capitalism literally creates wealth where it did not exist before. It takes work, ideas, creativity, individual and cooperation, risk, and planning to create wealth…but capitalism is the only system that can sustain long term innovation to create wealth out of what was previously worthless. Wealth thus has no limit, so long as there is liberty and drive to keep creating it. It parallels the other thing we seek for constantly in life: love. Just because I love my spouse doesn’t mean I have to love my parents, my siblings, or my children, or my friends less…they may all be different kinds of love, but an increase in one does not diminish the others. And the movie is quite clear; we need love in our lives:
Bill Parish: Love is passion, obsession, someone you can’t live without. I say, fall head over heels. Find someone you can love like crazy and who will love you the same way back. How do you find him? Well, you forget your head, and you listen to your heart. And I’m not hearing any heart. Cause the truth is, honey, there’s no sense living your life without this.
To make the journey and not fall deeply in love, well, you haven’t lived a life at all. But you have to try, cause if you haven’t tried, you haven’t lived.
But again back to the Maslow’s hierarchy, life isn’t complete with just love, we also need accomplishment. And the character of Bill Parish certainly has accomplished as the founder and chairman and CEO of a multinational media empire. As he discusses his business he states:
See, I started in this business because this is what I wanted to do. I knew I wasn’t going to write the great American novel, but I also knew there was more to life than buying something for a dollar and selling it for two. I’d hoped to create something, something which could be held to the highest standards. And what I realized was I wanted to give the news to the world, and I wanted to give it unvarnished. The more we all know about each other, the greater the chance we will survive.
Sure, I want to make a profit. You can’t exist without one. But John Bontecou is all profit. Now if we give him license to absorb Parrish Communications, and he has his eye on a few others after us, in order to reach the world you will have to go through John Bontecou. And not only will you have to pay him to do this, far more important, you’ll have to agree with him.
He veers almost into the territory of an Atlas Shrugged hero there…Yes I love making money, but I love making my creation more and you could offer me all the money in the world to scrap what I have built and I would throw it in your face. He is a man of morals which are more important than just money. Which is something else that correct philosophers from Aristotle to Maslow understood, while there are charlatans that can make money, they often can’t keep it going and can’t create. Yeah there are terrible businessmen out there, but the majority of the rich, from the so called Robber Barons to Mitt Romney the rich who come to their money through work and achievement are among the most generous people in the world (Please see Who Really Cares by Arthur C. Brooks for further proof).
And it is this mixture of accomplishment and love and morality that makes the character of Bill Parish so admirable that even Death views him as someone to learn from.
The man from whose lips fall “rapture” and “passion” and “obsession”? All those admonitions about being “deliriously happy, that there is no sense in living your life without” all the sparks and energy you give off, the rosy advice you dispense in round pear shaped tones. […]It requires competence wisdom and experience, all those things they say about you in testimonials. And you’re the one.
And as we see through the course of the movie as he cares for his family and their happiness more than his business, and the achievements he has made more than just buying another day or two of his life, why when right before Death takes him he asks, “Should I be afraid?” The obvious reply to someone who has built and accomplished and loved the only answer can be, “Not a man like you.” Bill Parish stands out as a man who has excelled in every aspect of his life…and it’s amazing that Hollywood would show such a character as being.
*If you ever see a movie directed by Alan Smithee, there is no Alan Smithee. That’s the name the Director’s Guild puts on films they allow the real director to distance themselves from. Producers or a studio have to ruin beyond the telling of it a director’s film before this is ever granted.