Like it or not, most of what exists of a person after death is merely what is said about that person. Someone could be immensely intelligent and complex in life, but if they were boring or something of an asshole, they will not be remembered as intelligent or complex after they pass, but rather, as a bore and an asshole. This an unfortunate but undeniably true fact of life. Regardless of what several mediums and psychics would like to think, you cannot speak from beyond the grave to defend yourself. The closest to this medium-psychic-communication from the dead the human race has, as archaic as it may sound, is the epitaph. That inscription cobbled together to give a person some kind of ultimate meaning is the one manner by which the dead are able to talk back. It is the true last testament–a tagline for someone’s entire life. You cannot change your reputation of boring assholery after death. However, if you have a good epitaph, the funeral goers might think twice before commencing disparagement.
Today is Plan Your Epitaph Day. So, for those out there in need of an impressive final statement, here are ten quotes from famous films that would serve as excellent epitaphs. After all, what better to speak for the dead than films? Movies are timeless; people, however, are not.
“You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. The rest is bullshit and you know it.” -Martin Scorsese, Mean Streets
Martin Scorsese is no outsider to the strange intricacies of death, and his 1973 film Mean Streets is proof of this. Harvey Kettle’s character, Charlie, struggles with his faith, his life of crime, and a lingering fear of mortality, as is perfectly summed up in this quote. One can’t make up for wrongs just by praying. Real redemption is only found in action. The rest, indeed, is bullshit. The quote exemplifies a cool, austere, very Scorsesian approach to life that would look great on any tombstone.
“I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a star. I am a big, bright, shining star.” -Dirk Diggler, Boogie Nights
This line probably works a lot better as an epitaph if people are familiar with its context within the film. To remind anyone who’s forgotten, this is the last line of Boogie Nights, delivered by Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler as he looks at himself naked in a dressing room mirror. It’s kind of absurd and oddly profound, just like all great epitaphs should be. Also, if Mark Wahlberg naked doesn’t scream “end-of-life statement,” I don’t know what does.
“Nobody’s perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just have half-angel and half-devil in you.” -Linda, Days of Heaven
Few people sum up life in all its flawed, melancholy glory quite like Terrence Malick does. This particular quote seems one of the best from the philosopher/moviemaker for an epitaph. For those who want something more austere inscribed on their tombstone, they can’t really do much better than Terrence Malick. Everyone commits their fair share of transgressions and failures in life, but “there was never a perfect person around.”
“Gee, he thought…I don’t know.” -Sortilege, Inherent Vice
Most people go through life in a state of dazed bewilderment. It’s only fitting that the epitaph matches (“He died as he lived, etc, etc…”).
“But I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least give me that.” -R.P. McMurphy, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Rebellious, swaggering, cocky, funny, and insane, Jack Nicholson’s incarnation of Randall P. McMurphy seems the very best person to represent someone after death. He’s a man without pretensions and cuts straight to the heart of things. Often it seems the best anyone can do in life is just try, and goddamn it, that’s almost just as impressive as success. The Nurse Ratcheds in your life often seem intent on beating you down, but through not taking things too seriously but still giving a shit, you might be able to survive, if at least for a while.
“And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day.” -Marge Gunderson, Fargo
There’s something so plainly poetic about Frances McDormand’s uber-pregnant police officer. The Coen Brothers worked in something so simple yet complex into her character–a real truth. It would seem sacrilege to make this list without a quote from Marge. She seems so kind and understanding, but she’s much more than the Midwestern caricature some have mistaken her for. There are few movie characters who seem to just get it the way Marge does. Life’s more than money and greed. People are born and people die, but why worry about all that; it’s a beautiful day.
“Well, fuck everybody. Amen.” -Minister, Synecdoche, New York
This one more or less speaks for itself.
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you.” -Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction
There’s nothing like a Tarantino-altered bible verse for a gravestone. Beyond this quote’s value as a wonderful movie reference, it possesses a sort of faux sagacity that’s perfect for an epitaph. Is the deceased the shepherd, guiding the weak, or is he the Lord, laying vengeance against those who deserve it? It’s ambiguous, and that’s the brilliance of it. Plus, it just sounds damn cool, and that should really be the first thing you worry about when choosing an epitaph.
“Yippee-kay-yay, motherfucker.” -John McClane, Die Hard
When faced with the 1980s-era Alan Rickman-looking face of death, there is only one way to respond. Why go out with a graven faced solemnity when you can go out with machine gun-blazing, profanity-laced ‘80s action movie majesty? Bruce Willis is the man we all want to speak for us beyond the grave.
Featured Image: Sony Pictures Classics