Please note: The following text contains spoilers. Viewer discretion is
also advised – this film is rated ‘12’. For more details on the film’s content,
read Focus On The Family’s Plugged In review.
It’s been thirteen years since the release of Rob Reiner’s comedy-drama,
The Bucket List – an unapologetically schmaltzy studio film which draws upon
the legendary acting talents of two men, who at the time, were
gracefully entering into their twilight years. You know, typically breezy
Sunday afternoon programming. But when viewed for the first time in the
very serious year of 2020, the film’s aura of oversentimentality seems
excessive, and not at all sweet. And yet somehow in spite of itself, The Bucket
List succeeds in telling an otherwise compelling story – especially
when confronting it’s viewers with weighty questions, such as: If faced with
the imminent, inevitability of your death, what would you choose to do with
the time that is left to you?
And for a dour year such as this, in which many people have been forced to confront their own fragile mortality when faced with a deadly virus, The Bucket List seems timely, especially in prompting us to reconsider what we value most in life, and whether or not we’re in dire need of re-examining it all-together, before we kick the proverbial bucket…
What follows is a collection of heart-warming sequences which regularly switch back and forth in genre, from the comic road movie to a spiritual journey. As their bond of friendship deepens between them, so does their trust in one another, which leads to the two men sharing poignant conversations about faith, joy, what happens after we die, and even the existence of God. There isn’t a great deal of depth to their religious/philosophical musings, but it does lead both Edward and Carter to contemplate what truly matters most to them in life. For at first, their bucket project stems from a largely self-centred desire to gift experiences to themselves, which they feel, for one reason or another, they deserve to enjoy. They go skydiving, visit the Taj Mahal, fly over the North Pole, ride motorcycles on the Great Wall of China and more… But still, in spite of the many escapades which they share with one another, something still seems to be missing in their lives. And in the quieter moments between them, the men share vulnerable tête-à-têtes regarding their flaws and regrets, subsequently revealing what they’re missing in life. For example, whilst sat atop the Great Pyramid, Carter reveals a loss of love for his wife, and Edward confesses his misguided actions which led to becoming estranged from his only daughter. The trip, whilst powerful and awe-inspiring, still can’t fill the respective voids within their life, which brings them to search for meaning and joy.
Both men experience the joy that comes from the world, particularly Edward, who indulges in the “the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25, NLT) such as when he invites escorts to his home, but only breaks down weeping in his luxury high-rise suite, when he realises just how worthless the experience actually is. Edward and Carter’s joy (whilst the source of the latter’s is more positive overall) is still temporary no matter what they do, as health issues or the breakdown of relationships continue to rob them of their joy, in preparing for their deaths.
King Solomon, much like Edward and Carter, attempted to find joy and happiness in the things of this world, saying: “I said to myself, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good." But that also proved to be meaningless… What does pleasure accomplish?” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2, NIV). Solomon realised that the joy of the world is unfulfilling, but that the joy which the Lord brings is rich, abundant and sustains us in a way that this world never could. Today, Christians have access to that very same joy, made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. For we were once sinners, robbed of joy and “life in all its fullness” by Satan, the “thief” who came to “kill and destroy” (John 10:10, ICB) by leading us into sin. But Jesus was sent by His Father God, to free us of the grip that sin had upon our lives, by taking our sin upon himself and destroying its power forever, when He died and rose again three days later. Through His sacrifice on the Cross, He made a way for us to be able to ask for forgiveness, become saved from eternal death apart from God, and experience a sense of joy from the Lord which can be readily present, even as we face difficulties in our life. For when we believe and know in our hearts that we are children of God, knowing that we are heirs to “a priceless inheritance” (1 Peter 1:4, NLT) which is the gift of eternal life, we can be secure in the joy of salvation He brings, not looking for such fulfilment elsewhere. Edward and Carter might eventually find their joy in family and friends, but such joy which only the Lord brings, gives us a hope for eternity – something which these two men do not have, and the filmmakers do not believe in. But when we come to God and receive His love, joy, hope and peace, we need not look elsewhere.
Why not prayerfully invite a friend or family member who doesn’t yet know Jesus, to watch The Bucket List for themselves? Use the film’s themes to ask them what they thought of the film, if they spotted any links to Christianity and what they might think of the Gospel’s response to this subject.
If you feel able to, ask them what they think about Edward's outlook on life - do they think that we can experience fullness of joy in the everyday, or do we need to look elsewhere? What about for Carter, do they think that family's enough to give us joy? Later, if they're open to hearing it, take an opportunity to share the hope of the Gospel message with them, majoring on the complete joy of salvation which a relationship with Jesus brings to us.
Prior to watching the film for yourself, however, take a moment to pray that God would speak to you through the film. If you feel comfortable, pray this prayer over all of your future, film-watching experiences:
Dear Lord, As I watch this film, I ask that you would be present here with me. Highlight to me anything within it that is honourable, anything that can be used in conversation for your Kingdom purposes. Amen.
The Bucket List is available to stream on Amazon Prime (UK)