The Bucket List, a comedic-drama directed by Rob Reiner, features two men named Edward and Carter-played by Morgan Freeman (as Carter), and Jack Nicholson (as Edward). The two men lead drastically different lives which steer them toward similarly different worldviews, that is until they are assigned the same hospital room while in care for their cancer. Over the course of the 1-hour and 37-minute movie, the men travel the world in an attempt to check all the items off the bucket list they share; meanwhile, they both get to experience what it is like to use the others’ perspective. This journey opens their minds while also bringing to light important topics such as different ways humans mourn the loss of their loved ones, how a person’s life should be measured, and what the point of life even is. In the following essay, I will analyze and comment on the movie through criteria like narration, characterization, theme, dramatic elements, dialogue, and shot.
From start to finish, The Bucket List points out many themes which comment on the importance of the way a person lives their life. The movie also displays the way the characters grow throughout the film provides perspective on each of them. First of all, the question “How do you measure your life?” is asked. We immediately receive Carter’s answer, “Me, I believe that you measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you.” (The Bucket List). Carter’s life is a perfect example of this because he lived his life for everyone but himself, yet the final answer to the question ultimately ends to be that you measure your life by what is important to you, meaning that, if music mattered to you, then you would measure your life by the success in the field of music you have had in your lifetime. In the movie, Carter travels with Edward during what everyone believes is the last months of his life. This angers Carter’s wife and she explains that she, herself was prepared for her husband’s death, but that she was not prepared for him to leave her before his death. This was interesting to me because she was hurt that Carter was putting himself above others for the first time, even when it was the last time on earth that he did get to spend at all. This leads to questions about what should matter to a person, many examples are shown through the dialogue.
Through the dialogue between the characters, the audience experiences what perspectives each man has on their life and how they deal with the end of their own life coming to an end. The director purposefully shows the outcome of both men’s lives side by side. Carter is shown in the hospital bed many times with a loved one nearby, and although he is unsatisfied with how his life ended up, he has the ones he cares for there by his side. Carter speaks usually in a positive tone and he smiles and jokes and this is because he has the support system of his family. Edward is shown in the same hospital room, but he is without visitors each time due to the selfish way he lived his life. Edward speaks negatively and he does joke, but the jokes are used in order to mask his true feeling of loneliness. Edward and Carter are both unhappy with their lives but Carter does have a family to support him through that.
As far as narration goes, The Bucket List definitely sets the tone for the voice of Morgan Freeman himself. Morgan Freeman is a seemingly perfect actor to voice the introductory and conclusory narration. An article published by Time offers an explanation as to why Mr. Freeman has a unique ability to engage an audience’s trust. The article states that “At the movies, we’ve watched Freeman play the good guy over and over again, and those years of positive associations add up.” The article further explains how people are more likely to trust a voice if it has a deeper tone. Whether it was a psychological trick or just a good casting decision, I think the choice of Morgan Freeman for the narrator definitely affected the tone of the movie, but Roger Rebert has a drastically different opinion upon the narration.
In his review and analysis of The Bucket List, Rebert states, “I’m thinking, just once, couldn’t a movie open with the voiceover telling us what a great guy the Morgan Freeman character is? Nicholson could say, “I was a rich, unpleasant, selfish jerk, and this wise, nice man taught me to feel hope and love.” Rebert further describes The Bucket List negatively, as is the entirety of his evaluation. Rebert, along with hundreds of comments made by other critics, agrees that the movie is superb by the means of the technique of simply making a movie, yet lacks uniqueness and emotional connection to the audience.
The director uses many different kinds of shots and camera angles to either display something that isn’t directly spoken towards or to exaggerate feelings directly shown. One of the first major uses of this element is when Carter gets a call from the hospital that his cancer has progressed. The camera zooms in on his phone and cuts from his phone to his cigarette and then follows the cigarette to the ground as it falls. When the camera cuts from the cigarette to the phone, it emphasizes the dramatic mood of the scene.
Further uses of editing techniques and camera angles are present as the audience is introduced to the hospital. The camera focuses on different aspects of the shot, such as the nurse’s station, a gurney, and someone in a wheelchair, all at an eye-line match. This emphasizes the setting and makes it clear to the audience that Edward is in the hospital at that point. Once Edward is rolled into the hospital room on the bed, the staff must transfer him from the temporary bed to the stationary bed in the room. Edward insists he can move himself over but when he does, he falls from the bed onto the floor, and the high angles shot is used to emphasize that he no longer holds the same power he did in the courtroom during the first part of the movie where he held all the power. Uses of camera focus are apparent in the time when Edward and Carter have not become friends yet. The camera pans out to show the audience the room from Edwards side of the room, focus then shifts to the other side of the room where Carter is. The director does this to guide the audience to compare how the two men feel during some of the last time they have left. Many more of these techniques are used in the movie and other techniques involving how a scene is lit can similarly provide exaggeration.
Lighting is used throughout this film to enhance the mood and to more clearly define tone. An example of this is when Edward and Carter are on separate sides of the room. Carter’s side of the room shows him and his wife holding hands and in other instances, his son laughing and having dinner with him. Carter’s side of the room has a high-key lighting which adds to the light-hearted atmosphere that is created by his family’s presence and laughter. In contrast to Carter’s side of the room, Edward’s side of the room has low-key lighting, which aids the depressed atmosphere which is created by him being lonely and upset while he processes the fact that he is dying. As Edward and Carter become closer friends, the lights on both sides of the room become even-which shows neutral lighting, and this follows the friendly tone where Edward has accepted friendship. The lighting also is similar when Edward is adjusting to being on chemo, and he is puking up his dinner while Carter had already known not to eat some because eating heavy meals increases the severity of nausea and puking. Edward is in the dark bathroom alone throwing up while Carter is sitting up reading using the light from a lamp. Such editing, camera, and lighting techniques are crucial to the individual character development in the movie because they communicate without words what is subtly shown in other ways such as characterizations. Both Edward and Carter have clearly defined characters from the beginning. Carter is introduced as a mechanic who has a large amount of knowledge in the area of trivia. Carter’s character overall is constantly battled with the fact that even living a selfless life and giving up his ambitions for the betterment of his children’s future, he is not content with what his life has come to. This is one of the reasons he creates a bucket list. Carter is displayed as wise and someone who thinks through his actions, whereas Edwards character is shown as nearly the opposite. Edward is first introduced while in court reaching a settlement. He uses straightforward language and speaks the first things that come to mind which propels the idea that he is someone who acts upon impulse and lacks the outward emotion which is so clearly displayed for Carter’s character. Throughout the movie, both men’s characters develop in different ways: Carter learns that even though selflessness is a good quality to have, he must be selfish sometimes to truly find joy. Edward learns that material things such as money and property do not matter as much as family and friends do when it comes down to the end. In the end, both men have transformed through the wisdom they shared with each other, and this made them better people overall.
The theme of enduring friendship is also a large part of this movie. Multiple instances between the characters reinforce the theme that friendship can help improve the quality of the life you are living. An example of this is when either Carter or Edward drop something, the other picks it up for them. Carter drops a gift which he received from his grandson which made it important to Carter, Edward picks the gift up and gives it to Carter. Instances such as this help strengthen the bonds between characters and add to the emotional pain that will come when Carter dies later in the film.
This all goes without mentioning the feelings that Carter’s wife has about her husband’s friendship with Edward. When Edward and Carter first begin to learn about each other they both mention how their marriages are not where they had hoped them to be at the point in the life they are currently at. Edward has three ex-wives while Carter, although married, points out that something has changed over the many years of partnership. He adds that there is something between them and that he does not exactly know what it is. Carter’s wife has a confrontation with Edward from the time he decides to treat Carter to the trip, to the time the trip comes to an end. The women are furious that her husband-Carter-has formed a bond so quickly that is just as strong, if not stronger, as their marriage. She does not realize until Carter arrives at the home-the impact the friendship had on Carter’s personal growth as well as the impact it made on their marriage. This conflict between characters was, by far, the most realistic conflict which multiplied the uplifting feelings created by the resolution of the conflict.
Overall the movie The Bucket List provides a thoughtful perspective on human life, as well as the conclusion of human life. Through analysis, I’ve concluded that the director uses many things like narration, characterization, theme, dramatic elements, dialogue, setting, and shot to display these thoughts throughout a realistic storyline.
The Bucket List. Dir. Rob Reiner. By Jack Zackham. Warner, 2007.
Ebert, Roger. “The Bucket List Movie Review & Film Summary (2008) | Roger Ebert.” RogerEbert.com. N.p., 10 Jan. 2008. Web.
Oaklander, Mandy. “Morgan Freeman’s Voice, Waze & the Science of Why We Love It.” Time. Time, 23 Feb. 2016. Web.