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Film: Defending Your Life

Daniel Miller: Is this Heaven?
Bob Diamond: No, it isn't Heaven.
Daniel Miller: Is it Hell?
Bob Diamond: Nope, it isn't Hell either. Actually, there is no Hell. Although I hear Los Angeles is getting pretty close.

A 1991 fantasy Romantic Comedy written/directed by/starring Albert Brooks and co-starring Meryl Streep.

Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks) dies in a car wreck and finds himself in a very Earth-like purgatory called Judgement City. Here, he is given a defense attorney, Bob Diamond (Rip Torn), and Bob will have to defend Daniel's life by presenting Daniel's past in a trial over whether or not Daniel can Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence or if he should be sent back to face his fears. Daniel then meets Julia (Meryl Streep, no last name given), who led a loving and fulfilling life, but died an untimely death. Julia and Daniel quickly hit it off, but while Daniel asserts he has no more fears and he's ready to move on, his romance with Julia begins raising some doubts...

This film provides examples of:

  • Afterlife Antechamber: Judgement City, which tries so hard to be like Earth that it has suggestion boxes. If you pass Judgement, Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. If you fail, you get sent back.
  • Alien Lunch: The "food" the big brains eat.
  • Angst? What Angst?: invoked Invoked and justified in the film. Julia remarks that even though she should be devastated that she can't see her two children again, she feels alright about it, then says that the people who run Judgment City do that to all the recent dead so they can focus on their trials, rather than dwell on the people they left behind.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The ultimate goal of the people of Judgement City.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: In order to move on, the deceased must win a trial over whether or not they're worthy to continue. They are given a defense lawyer, face off against prosecutors, and are judged by what look like average court judges. There are two exceptions: children and teenagers. Children automatically go on for being innocent, while teens are too much trouble to keep around and get sent right back.
  • Cessation of Existence: Briefly mentioned by Bob, who says that anybody who doesn't eventually learn is "thrown away," but there are people who get reincarnated hundreds of times.
  • Comfort Food: Because Judgement City is an Afterlife Antechamber, residents can eat as much as they want and never gain weight, and given the trial, they'll need as much of it as they can get.
  • Dead to Begin With
  • Deadpan Snarker: Daniel, and occasionally Bob.
  • Died Happily Ever After: Assuming you win the trial, otherwise you start over.
  • Dying Alone: Julia, when she did die: all of her friends went out of town and she stayed back to go swimming. Then she tripped over a lounge chair and into the pool, drowning even when she'd been a good swimmer.
  • Ending Type: Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Face Your Fears: The primary goal of the deceased. Daniel faces several of his at once on the bus back to getting reincarnated by hopping off and running all the way to Julia's bus.
  • Fantastic Racism: Typical humans use less then seven percent of their brain. The term "little brain" is bandied about in the same deprecating way that racial slurs are used in our world right down to the stand-up comic making "little brain" jokes and then complaining that the audience isn't bright enough to understand them because they're "little brains".
  • Insistent Terminology: All the staff of Judgment City insist repeatedly that the proceedings for each deceased are not a "trial." What exactly the proceedings are, that involve a courtroom, judges, prosecution, defense counsel, opening statements, cross-examination, and closing statements, but are not a trial, is never revealed.
  • It Will Never Catch On: One of the flashbacks shown during Daniel's hearing shows him being offered a chance to invest money in Casio when the company was getting ready to go public and the stock was dirt cheap. Daniel laughed at the thought of the Japanese making wristwatches.
  • 90% of Your Brain : Daniel's defense attorney Bob says he uses 48% of his, while Daniel can only use 3%. The higher-ups nickname the deceased "little brains." Daniel is actually embarrassed about it ("My God, I'm the dunce of the Universe!"), but Bob assures him it's normal for those that haven't moved on to be at such a level.
  • No Name Given: Julia's last name. Lampshaded in the climax.
    Daniel: I tried to call you, but I didn't know your last name.
  • Race for Your Love: In the film's climax, Daniel and Julia are put on busses: Daniel's bus is going to back to Earth while Julia's is going to the next phase of existence. When Julia calls out for Daniel, he finally faces his fear, escapes the bus, and catches up to her while the bus is in motion, only to find the door is locked. The judges find it so moving they let him on with her.
  • Reincarnation: If you are flawed or still contain fears from your previous lives (or you're a young child), you are sent right back.
  • Secret Test of Character: All those days Daniel was going through? They were intentionally to put pressure on him to see if he would crack. He nearly did, even admitting outright he was afraid to be in a relationship with Julia because he felt he wouldn't be moving on with her. The actual days had almost no bearing on Daniel's judgment. Instead, proving he would risk everything to be with Julia proved he'd conquered his fears.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: The kindhearted, loving Julia (who will most likely moved on) and the fearful, neurotic Daniel (who will most likely go back to Earth).
  • Teens Are Monsters: They are sent to a different area for judgment.
    Daniel: What about teenagers?
    Bob: Too much trouble. They go elsewhere. We tried for a while, but they damage the tupas. Too rowdy.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Julia, who died by tripping into her pool.
  • Undignified Death: Julia's death: she tripped into her pool.
  • Xanatos Gambit: It's strongly hinted that the review itself was a test for Daniel, to try to humiliate him and see if he still had the courage from all the abuse to still bravely declare his love for Julia, even though they weren't going to be going to the same place.

    This theory is supported by the number of days Daniel is scheduled to review - Nine - which is pointed out numerous times throughout the movie. If you don't count direct rebuttal scenes, or Lena's "bad decision" montage, the trial looks at 7 days from Daniel's life on Earth (The schoolyard bully, the classmate losing his paint supplies, the Casio stock tip, the salary negotiation, the public speaking engagement, the snowmobile, and the ticket to Hong Kong.) Day 8 is the unexpected review of his final conversation in the hotel with Julia. Judgment is then rendered, and the climactic tram scene is observed, unbeknownst to Daniel, by the re-assembled participants of the trial as Day 9.

Dead AgainFilms of the 1990sDelicatessen
Death to SmoochyCreator/Warner Bros.The Departed

alternative title(s): Defending Your Life
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