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The Bucket List - Movie Review

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

As with all movies on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete synopsis of the film, but rather to document how the movie relates to the meaning of life. With that said, be forewarned, there are still spoilers ahead.

The Bucket List is a 2007 comedy-drama film directed by Rob Reiner, and starring Jack Nicholson (Edward Cole) and Morgan Freeman (Carter Chambers). The movie is about two strangers having to come to terms with having terminal cancer and what to do with the projected 6-months they have yet to live.

It was a Sunday afternoon and there wasn’t a cloud on the sky. It’s difficult to understand the sum of a person’s life. Some people will tell you it is measured by the ones left behind. Some believe it can be measured in faith. Some say by love. Other folks say life has no meaning at all. I believe that you measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you. What I can tell you for sure is that by any measure Edward Cole lived most of his days on earth than most people managed to wring out of a lifetime.

The above quote opens the film. Then we're introduced to Carter, a mechanic, who deferred his dreams of becoming a history professor for the benefit of raising his children. Though he had started college and planned to return, 45 years later, he never got the chance. But he is sharp—any Jeopardy question, any trivia question, he can answer. A bit later, we're introduced to Edward, a billionaire who built his companies from nothing, and he cares pretty much about no one other than himself. Though his business is the business of hospitals, he could care less about those in them. Ironically, he would soon find himself a patient in his own hospital, having to share a room with a total stranger (Carter).

After struggling through chemo and other things, the two find themselves in remission. Feeling better, Edward finds a yellow sheet of lined paper on the floor. What is it? Carter's somewhat boring bucket list—a list of things to do before he dies. Together they would create a new list which would include things such as the following:

  • Witness something truly majestic

  • Help a complete stranger

  • Laugh until I cry

  • Drive a Shelby Mustang

  • Kiss the most beautiful girl in the world

  • Get a tattoo

  • Skydiving

  • Visit Stonehenge

  • Drive a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China

  • Go on a Safari

  • Visit the Taj Mahal

  • Sit on the Great Egyptian Pyramids

  • Find the Joy in your life

Together, they would cross off most of the things on their list, while leaving some items for others like Thomas (aka Matthew) to check off later.

On top of the pyramids, Carter and Edward would have an interesting conversation about the Egyptian passage into heaven. Each person would have to answer two questions before entering:

  1. Have you found joy in your life?

  2. Has your life brought joy to others?

At this moment, can either truly answer yes?

Edward would eventually be reunited with his estranged daughter and would also temporarily beat cancer. Carter would soon die after leaving home a stranger and returning home as a husband (according to his wife). Both, in some sense, could then answer the two questions on Egyptian death as a definite yes.

So what is the movie telling us about the meaning of life? Both Carter and Edward lived polar opposite lives. Both had things to learn from each other. What the film is telling us about finding meaning in life, is that meaning is found through living life to the fullest. Appreciating what you have—including family and friends. Don't lose that spark, don't lose the magic you once found in significant others—grow together. Whether you're rich or poor, it doesn't matter—what matters is making the most out of every moment you have, because you don't know exactly when your last moment will be. Find joy, spread joy. With that said, the movie does give us some additional nuggets of wisdom. Consider the following quotes:

Edward: Three things to remember when you get older: never pass up a bathroom, never waste a hard-on, and never trust a fart.

Carter: Even now I cannot understand the measure of a life, but I can tell you this. I know that when he died, his eyes were closed and his heart was open. And I'm pretty sure he was happy with his final resting place, because he was buried on the mountain. And that was against the law.

We rate the movies as follows:

Overall - 8

Meaning of Life Relevance - 6

Uniqueness – 4

If you saw the movie, what did you think? What's on your bucket list? Comment below and let us know.

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