Recommended Viewing Situation:
Sat atop a pile of semi-naked, chiselled, young men, drinking red wine from a goblet and cackling, whilst simultaneously contemplating unattainable beauty standards and mortality.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Format: 35mm film.
Director: Robert Zemeckis.
Writers: Martin Donovan, David Koepp.
Cinematographer: Dean Cundy.
Awards: Winner of the Oscar for best effects, visual effects, 1993, the BAFTA for best special effects 199, and multiple Saturn awards, as well as notable nominations.
Meet Madeleine Ashton (Meryl Streep), a once beloved Broadway star, desperately trying to sing and dance one step ahead of the death of her career, and Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn), an aspiring writer who never quite manages to claw her way out of Madeleine’s shadow. Until, that is, the loss of her fiancé, plastic surgeon extraordinaire Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis) to Ms. Ashton. The final straw for Helen, she spends years in a psychiatric hospital, hell bent on getting her revenge. It comes in the form of a magic potion, supplied by Lisle Von Rhuman (Isabella Rossellini), which promises eternal youth and beauty. The catch? You must look after your body, because the potion’s main side effect is death.
Directed by special effects whiz, Robert Zemeckis, Death Becomes Her (1992) is a masterpiece of black humour, social commentary, and special effects that leave you feeling as fabulous as you do cynically apathetic. Madeleine and Helen’s lifelong rivalry that eventually leads to them both accepting death as a reasonable price to pay to be more young and beautiful than the other (and desirous to the male gaze, Ernest), is a bleak depiction of the pressures of Hollywood and the effects of patriarchy over time. And yet this depressingly accurate portrayal is wickedly funny in its execution, with an intelligently written and witty script, and a soundtrack by Alan Silvestri that will make you want to dance on the graves of patriarchs everywhere on a stormy night at the end of summer.
Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep give absolutely perfect performances; they make you cackle and frighten all hell out of you. This is also one of the rare earlier performances from Bruce Willis in which he is not the bald, smirking, action hero we have all come to be so familiar with. For starters, he has hair. Yes, hair. And spectacles. Ernest Menville is a has-been, alcoholic, plastic-surgeon-turned-reconstructive mortician, which is beautifully dark and saturated with Frankensteinian undertones. He literally constructs feminine beauty, except that rather than constructing life from death, he takes life and beats it into cis-hetero-normative moulds until he is left painting a corpse. Ernest, of course, is not the villain of the piece. That’s the thing about patriarchy as a system of oppression; there is no ‘bad guy’. It hits everyone hard. Including the beneficiaries.
On a less depressing note, visually this film gleefully flits between slapstick and grotesquery. With seriously creepy cinematography and horrific violence woven into comedy, the viewer can enjoy watching Madeleine stumble around with her neck twisted over 360 degrees and facing the wrong way without feeling like it lacks credulity. As you watch the Mad, Ern, Hel (Geddit? Madder’n Hell?) dysfunction play out, you find yourself simultaneously rooting for all three characters, until, inevitably, you are left with decrepit, decaying Mad and Hel, with no Ern to repair their withering bodies. As they fight and cackle and decay their way through existence, you can’t help but love these girls and their morbid aesthetic.