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Film / Life (1999)

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Life is a 1999 comedy-drama film directed by Ted Demme, starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence.

In 1932 New York City, Claude Banks (Lawrence) gets caught up in a bootlegging scheme after a fateful run in with no-good Ray Gibson (Murphy). While making the sale in the Deep South, the boys get involved in a crooked game of cards and end up framed for the murder of the local card sharp. Sentenced to life, their friendship is forged by proximity and the dream of escape.

At first glance, it appears to be a normal Eddie Murphy or Martin Lawrence screwball comedy, but it actually has surprising Hidden Depths as it follows several decades of the main characters' unlikely friendship, fitting it firmly in the Dramedy territory.


This film provides examples of:

  • The Alcatraz: As they enter the prison yard, Ray and Claude are told by Sergeant Dillard that Parchman Farm prison has no fences, because any prisoner crossing the gun line will be taken down by a sharpshooter.
  • Alone in a Crowd: When Claude is left alone at the bus station, he looks around at the outside world. It's his first time seeing it in forty years. He looks utterly lost and then catches his own wrinkled reflection in a car window.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It's unclear if several of Ray and Claude's friends died or were released during the Time Skip.
  • American Accents: Over the course of the film, Ray and Claude lose their New York accents and pick up southern accents as a result of a lifetime in the South.
  • Berserk Button: "White-Only Pies". Also making a wisecrack about Ray’s father and his watch is this for Ray.
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  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Biscuit runs over the gun line and gets shot by one of the trustees. Why?? Because he didn’t want to go home to his mother a gay man. Truth in Television as being homosexual during that time was heavily frowned upon.
  • Big Bad: Sheriff Pike, the closest thing to one the film has. It was he who framed our two leads and put them in prison for life.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Claude and Ray spend their whole lives locked away for a crime they never committed. By the time they finally pull off a successful escape, they're both old men living in the modern world, last seen at a Yankee game. Still the ending treats this in a positive light.
  • Book-Ends: Ray and Claude's funeral ...or so it seemed.
  • The Cameo: Rick James plays a 1930's gangster named "Spanky" and rapper Heavy D is a Present Day inmate.
  • Camp Gay: Biscuit.
  • Chocolate Baby: The Superintendent's daughter gives birth to a very obviously not white child. This leads to a hilarious scene where the Superintendent lines the prisoners up and compares the baby to each of them, trying to root out the father.
  • Covers Always Lie: The poster for this film shows Murphy and Lawrence sandwiched between two very large inmates who obviously have a little bit o'prison rape on their minds. These two inmates (neither of whom is Goldmouth) are never shown in the film, and while Jangle Leg does hit on Ray, he doesn't threaten rape. In fact, no one does.
  • Credits Gag: A bloopers reel is shown during the credits. The best of which is Murhpy's crack during the watch scene: "Hey, this ain't my daddy's watch!"
  • Daddy's Little Villain: When punishing Ray and Claude after a would be escape, the superintendent asks Little Mae Rose what she thinks he should do with them. She considers for a moment, and then sentences them to a night in The Hole (her daddy extends it to a week).
  • Dawson Babies: When the superintendent lines the convicts up to compare the baby to, it should be the next day after the birth. The baby is wide eyed and holding it's head up on it's own and working it's hands. It's clearly at least 3-5 months old.
  • Defiant to the End: Sheriff Pike and his deputies have Winston Hancock at their mercy for not leaving town and does Hancock beg for them to let him go??? Nope he makes a wisecrack about sleeping with the Sheriff’s wife which gets him knocked down to the ground but he uses a switchblade to slice Pike’s face giving him a permanent scar for life right before Pike kills him.
  • Deep South: Even though they are black men in the early 1930s, Claude is shocked to see the differences in their treatment when they leave New York and head South.
  • Driven to Suicide: Unable to cope with the idea of living on the outside, Biscuit commits suicide by running across the gun line.
    • Ray's father gave up hope and allegedly hung himself in prison.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": We never hear most of the inmates' real names. Instead they are introduced by their prison names: Biscuit, Jangle Leg, Cookie, etc. No one ever even knows Can't Get Right's real name, as he can't speak to introduce himself.
  • Everything Makes a Mushroom: Ray's attempt to escape in the crop duster ends this way. Amazingly, he's shown being shoved into The Hole with no injuries other than a hilarious covering of soot.
  • Evil Gloating: While at gunpoint, Sheriff Pike not only admits that he is the one who killed Winston Hancock, he also takes pleasure in the fact that Ray and Claude spent the last 40 years doing cheap labor for his crime.
  • Faking the Dead: How Ray and Claude escape.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Ray and Claude hate each other until they have to spend decades in each other's company.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: At the bus station Claude briefly considers running, but when he looks around and realizes how much the world has changed, he sits back down in the car and waits for the superintendent to return.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Ray and Claude die in prison. Or did they?
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Ray and Claude eventually become these.
  • Hope Spot: When the new superintendent (Ned Beatty) finds out Ray and Claude are innocent, he immediately moves to write their pardon - right after he gets out of the restroom. Unfortunately, the stress of the day's events causes a heart attack and he dies without drawing up the papers or telling a soul.
    • Earlier, Ray and Claude are in talks with a Negro Baseball League recruiter to help them get out of prison by acting as Can't Get Right's handlers. While mourning the death of Biscuit, Can't Get Right gets his parole papers, and the agent tells Claude and Ray he tried to secure their freedom but couldn't.
  • I Am Spartacus: The entire camp claims fathership of Mae Rose's child to save Can't Get Right.
  • Imagine Spot: The inmates collectively have one when Ray talks about his dream of owning his nightclub, "Ray's Boom-Boom Room".
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Can't Get Right is obviously very simple and never speaks. However, his potential major-league baseball skills earn him a full pardon and he manages to have an affair with Superintendent Abernathy's daughter even spawning a child.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Willie never said Ray and Claude didn't succeed in their escape plan.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: The closing scene is intended to be highly uplifting and spotlight Ray and Claude's friendship and freedom. However, the song chosen was "What Would You Do" by City High, which is about a woman explaining her reasons for becoming a hooker. The song was obviously only chosen for the single chorus line "But for me this is what I call life."
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The new superintendent explains to the police that the shooting was a Dick Cheney-style hunting accident when really he shot and killed Sheriff Pike after learning of Ray and Claude's innocence.
  • Odd Couple: Straitlaced Claude and petty thief Ray.
  • The Old Convict: Claude and Ray become this over decades of incarceration. Also Willie as well.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Ray's watch, given to him by his deceased father who hung himself in prison.
  • Pet the Dog: Sergeant Dillard selling Claude and his girlfriend a 'temporary marriage license" to make them eligible for a conjugal visit the one time she visits him.
  • Punishment Box: Prisoners are punished with time in "The Hole," which is an outhouse sized shed with no light or plumbing out in the sun in the South.
  • Red Right Hand: Claude recognizes the real murderer, Sheriff Pike, by his accent and the scar across his cheek.
  • Sand In My Eyes: After hearing Ray and Claude's story, one of the young inmates claims his tears are from "allergies".
  • She's All Grown Up: Little Mae Rose, Superintendent Abernathy's daughter.
  • Signature Item Clue: Gibson sees his father's heirloom pocket watch—the one he lost to the card shark he was convicted of murdering—in the possession of the deputy who arrested him for the murder, and puts two and two together.
  • Situational Sexuality: Biscuit and Jangle Leg are together. However, the party scene implies that Jangle is interested in women when he can get them. Biscuit isn't happy.
  • Time-Compression Montage: After closely following their first 12 years of incarceration, the film skips to the mid 70s via a montage of historical events and images of the other inmates fading as they either died or were released.
  • Title Drop: All over since it's a common, one-syllable word, but notably when the judge sentences Ray and Claude to "LIFE" imprisonment.
  • True Companions: The inmates form an odd family of sorts.
  • The Voiceless: Can't Get Right.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Ray and Claude epitomize this trope after 60+ years together.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Ray Gibson and Claude Banks now live in Harlem...Together.
  • Where Da White Women At?: Can't Get Right can't keep his eyes off of Mae Rose. Ray and Claude continually try to warn him what kind of trouble this could get him in.
  • Working on the Chain Gang: Claude and Ray are sentenced to work on a chain gang after being wrongfully convicted of a crime they didn't commit.
  • Zany Scheme: Ray's constant escape plots.


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