‘What happens when we die?’ A broad, sweeping question and one that has been asked eternally. It is not however, unexpected to ask this question once in your life at least. If you are Catholic or Jewish, then another idea becomes a preoccupation, one that features some what more regularly indeed. How will my life be judged or more aptly, How will I be judged? This is what Albert Brooks mines in his film DEFENDING YOUR LIFE. Pitched as a romantic comedy, it is equally a commentary on the chattering classes, American exceptionalism and the good ole, 1980s feeling that making it, was all that mattered.

Daniel Miller (Brookes) dies in a car accident. Brought on by his own stupidity in truth but it is his 39th birthday.  He is sent to Judgment City, a mix between Limbo of the 1940s films and Purgatory of Dante. All the recently deceased are there to be judged for their Earthly lives. Daniel has a defence attorney, Bob Diamond (Rip Torn) explains that people from Earth use so little of their brains (only three to five percent) that they spend most of their lives functioning on the basis of their fears. To over come this, is to evolve and be better. Daniel has lived a life of fear (and loathing, and being a bit of a shit). While there he meets and falls in love with Julia (Meryl Streep), a recently deceased woman who lived a seemingly perfect life. As the trial continues, he sees that the chance of perfect bliss might be further from him then another attempt at a so called life.

Criterion have been on a Brookes kick recently with LOST IN AMERICA also featuring. I prefer DEFENDING YOUR LIFE for its insights to life, love and fear. Especially in a secular but religious prism. But preferred LOST IN AMERICA for its pointed comments on America and her exceptionalism. Both however work as a package for a film maker at his most funny. Brookes understands how humour is more engaging over time if you make it less pivoted on the punchline (like Wilder). We laugh and we feel the pathos of a man in a deceptive heaven. A place we aspire to but that we often miss because we cant quite settle for it. Without fear creeping in. I cant say that it will connect with everyone.


Jinkies! The 4K is one of the best transfers I have ever seen. Though we have the early 90s hues of Mann like colour florescence, it is tender. It feels like the artifice Brookes was churning but with the addition of pathos. Criterion have avoided the light loss on previous releases that have compromised the film on DVD badly.



So far I have not mentioned the one film that every extra on the disc does. A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. Well I dont need to, everyone else also mentioned it. Brooks and filmmaker Robert Weide conversation mentions it. Alongside anxious comments on childhood fears and religious baggage. Theologian and critic Donna Bowman is an excellent piece, which mentions it but is still great and worth running over, if not simply for the theology connections the film produces. Essay by filmmaker Ari Aster is more film school but he is an interesting film maker and one that is unexpected on a disc like this.

Special Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, approved by director Albert Brooks, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
  • New conversation between Brooks and filmmaker Robert Weide
  • New interview with theologian and critic Donna Bowman about Brooks’s vision of the afterlife
  • New programme featuring excerpts from interviews conducted in 1991 with Brooks and actors Lee Grant and Rip Torn
  • Trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by filmmaker Ari Aster

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