Defending Your Life

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Long before Albert Brooks started making movies, he was known as a writer. Something he still does this very day. He used to work for SNL with friend Buck Henry (who has a bit of a cameo in this movie) and throughout his career, Albert Brooks has made his mark on Hollywood as both a talented actor, director and writer. A very unique combination, and one that only a select few can claim. In 1991, Brook’s wrote and directed Defending Your Life. The trailer designates it as the only movie made that actually tells what it’s like after you die. While no one can verify this as a fact or not, I will say that it’s a very interesting take on the afterlife. Brooks usually doesn’t try and conquer too tough of subjects in his movies, they’re mostly about everyday life (take “Real Life” for example). However, with this movie, it’s quite clear how clever Brooks is, how talented an actor he is and why he’s still one of the more popular writer/actor/directors out there.

As fate would have it, Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks) is shown accepting a gift from his fellow employees. He is on his way to pick up his brand new BMW convertible and is hit and killed by a bus before the opening credits even finish doing their thing. That’s all we see of life on Earth. Well…sort of (we’ll get to that later). Daniel immediately finds himself being wheeled down a seemingly endless corridor, unable to talk and barely move. He’s taken to a hotel room at “The Continential” where he awaits instructions to go to bed and meet with his “Defender” the next morning. Daniel, having just died, goes to sleep and takes things as they come. What he learns through Bob Diamond (Rip Torn) is that there is no heaven or hell “Though, I hear Los Angeles is getting pretty bad” says Bob. Daniel, and so many others have been gathered from the Western part of the United States in some sort of limbo where they can eat all they want, and do a number of other activities. It’s like they’re still alive, but yet they’re not on Earth. Each person has the right to defend what they did as mortals on Earth with the help of their defender. According to them (and this is the really interesting part), each person has had multiple lifetimes and in doing so, gains more insight into what life really is all about. If the defendant passes judgment, they are allowed to move forward, though they never really say what that entails. It’s also revealed to Daniel that humans use only 3-5% of their brain while on earth, upon moving forward, more of the brain is used (it’s a status symbol in the afterlife as to how much of your brain you actually use).

Daniel has had 9 days of his life that is to be looked at and torn apart by the prosecutor. Because, you see, fear is the only thing that holds people back from being complete on Earth. Get over your fears and then you’re free to expand your mind, and hence move on in the afterlife (of course, no one on Earth knows this). In the case that Daniel doesn’t pass the test, he is sent back to Earth again (presumably as a baby) to do the whole thing over again. He’s been back around 20 times so far, but he doesn’t realize it. Aside from the “stress” of having every frame of his life scrutinized by others, he meets a woman named Julia (Meryl Streep). Keep in mind, everyone is “dead” in Earth terms. Julia and Daniel instantly click, and it’s not long before they realize that Julia is essentially guaranteed to move forward (she is only having 4 days of her life looked at), whereas Daniel’s future is quite uncertain. As time is of the essence, Daniel and Julia start to fall in love in the afterlife, but what of the outcome of Daniel’s trial?

I had seen Defending Your Life when it came out in theaters some ten years ago. It’s not a particularly “dated” film, though some of the early 90’s hairstyles do prevail. I find the concept of the film interesting, and who knows what it’s like out there…after we die? Brooks turns in another great performance on both sides of the camera, and for Meryl Streep–well, it was good to see her redeem herself after making “Death Becomes Her”. See a trend here? Chances are that if you’re an Albert Brooks fan, then you’ll want to add it to your collection. It’s essentially featureless on DVD, but most of his DVD’s are. What Defending Your Life will do is make you think. And that’s something that a lot of movies don’t do.

Video: How does it look?

Another Warner catalog title, but one that has received the benefit of anamorphic enhancement. The 1.85:1 image is soft at times, and never really clear at all. The movie is ten years old, but as Warner has shown us in the past, age isn’t necessarily the only thing that makes a difference. Colors are muted just a bit and the characters seem to have a soft edge around them throughout. Of course, this deals with the afterlife, so maybe Brooks was trying to show us something. With him…you never know. There’s not a lot going on here with the palette. I don’t even recall a shade of red in the movie. Judgment City is tranquil and serine, so the colors are white, blue and green. There also seems to be a bit of artifacting in some scenes, but nothing too bad. It’s not a bad transfer, then again…it’s not a great one either.

Audio: How does it sound?

Nothing much to say about the audio. When this movie was released, it was in a Dolby Surround mix, which was the best out there at the time. Presented in a Dolby Surround mix, the audio more than serves it’s purpose. I heard the rear channels kick in a few times, but for the most part, the action is limited to the front three speakers. While this won’t light up your system, it gets the job done. Dialogue is clean, but gets drowned out in a few scenes. Again…could have been better, could have been worse.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Though I would buy a Special Edition of this movie, all we’re treated to is the original trailer in anamorphic widescreen and some cast bios.

Disc Scores