I’ve got bad news and good news. Each of us will eventually die. We’ll either be tossed into the ground or we’ll be cremated and sprinkled over the ocean (or salads), depending upon your wishes. Still, I’ve often thought the beauty of death lies in its mystery: no one really knows if there is an afterlife; and, because of that, we’re afforded the freedom, despite our intellectual reasoning, to hope for the existence of one. Whether our parents pass or our spouses leave or our children outgrow us and disappear, we grieve for ourselves -- who else will remember and understand? The bad news is that we’re left stranded on Earth wondering if they still remember our secret moments. If they still remember us.
The good news, according to Hollywood, is that… Hey! Move over! They’re right here! For years, movies have presented us with inspired visions of extraterrestrials, other planets, and passionate historical romances. With the afterlife, though, we’re mostly left people who hang around their old apartments and flick light switches on and off in an attempt to attract the kind of attention typically relegated to the family dog/cat/septic tank. This is disheartening.
That’s the premise of Jeff Zucker’s Ghost, a film that focuses on a couple, Molly and Sam (Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze), who are so devoid of personality, intelligence or humor, that when Swayze dies, we’re hoping it will at least improve the conversation. It doesn’t.
The movie follows Sam’s attempts to communicate his love (and the truth about his death – it was a murder!) to his live-in girlfriend Molly. And how does Sam attract attention from his beloved? Easy. He simply employs the following exciting tactics: He pushes pennies, kicks cans, and inhabits the body of Whoopi Goldberg for some steamy scenes of bear-hugging. This afterlife does not bode well for any of us.
I’ve chosen Ghost for this week’s version of Fiction vs. Reality as a personal vendetta against Jeff Zucker for crushing all of our hopes for an afterlife in which we aren’t forced to hang out in subway stations with Whoopi Goldberg. Just how would this movie play out in real life? Let’s find out.
Scenario # 1
What Happens: After revealing to his co-worker (and murderer) Carl that he is nervous about a routine meeting with Japanese businessmen, Sam is informed by his secretary that a client needs $900,000 transferred to his account by 10 AM.
Hollywood Version: Sam checks his watch. Nervous (and unable to multi-task), he delegates the responsibility to Carl and entrusts him with a coveted “mac” pin code. Carl handles the situation with grace and aplomb. Sam sucker-punches his computer and yells about “glitches!” The audience feels empathy for Sam.
Reality: According to Simon Baeker, vice president of risk assessment, Chase Manhattan Bank, “Most banks make hundreds, if not thousands, of transactions each minute. Sam’s lack of grace under pressure and confidence in his ability to press a few buttons on a computer keyboard signals to me that he should not be entrusted with executive-level responsibility. My personal assessment is that he is a huge risk.”
Scenario # 2
What Happens: After emotionally stonewalling his girlfriend Molly, Sam wanders into her studio, ruins her pottery, and laughs about it.
Hollywood Version: Sexually excited by his dismissal of her work, Molly engages in a slow and sensual hugging session with Sam that lasts almost the entire length of one Everly Brothers song.
Reality: According to Fran Garofali, marriage counselor and author of Vow of Silence: Tales from Abusive Marriages, “This is a classic example of a man suffering from emotional and possibly physical impotence. Sam is a boring man who lacks the confidence to make routine bank transfers or engage in sexual behaviors that go beyond passionate hugging. That sort of man would be threatened by his wife’s creative endeavors. Frankly, his dying is a blessing in disguise for her and maybe us all.”
Scenario # 3
What Happens: After Sam’s refusal discuss marriage or his feelings, Molly confides in him that she is nervous about a review of her work in an upcoming edition of the New York Times.
Hollywood Version: Feeling insecure, Sam shouts: “It shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks; just what I think!” Then, after another interminable and boring silence, he attempts to undermine the paper by revealing that it is “some frustrated little critic with pimples on his ass who flunked out of art school. Nobody reads it.”
Reality: “Uh, we have over 35 million subscribers,” asserts Phillip L. Munroe, executive editor at the New York Times, “and their loyalty tells us that we have a strong brand. Additionally, our market research has proven that people across the world very much care about the opinions of our editors. Probably more than that of an ineffectual banker.”
Scenario # 4
What happens: Sam is murdered.
Hollywood Version: A spotlight (not unlike the ones employed during grand openings of used car dealerships) appears. Sam runs toward Molly – perhaps this might spice up the conversation? It doesn’t. Bored, the spotlight disappears.
Reality: According to God, “Two things. Heaven and Hell are concepts conceived by Man as a way of understanding something that cannot be grasped by the human mind; however, I can assure you that death is not met with Broadway stage lights. Secondly, when people pass, it’s because I need them. When Robert Goulet died, the blogosphere said it was because I needed a baritone in Heaven. And I did. That’s also why, when I needed a good laugh, I blew up that bus filled with clowns. What I do NOT need, however, is a nervous banker with low self-esteem.”
Scenario # 5
What Happens: Sam lounges around the house and watches (with boredom) as Molly cleans the apartment. When she leaves, he has a dangerous confrontation with… a door.
Hollywood version: Just as Sam is about to defeat the door, murderer Willie Lopez shows up and inspires a pretty hilarious scene in which Sam impotently punches and kicks the air. Embarrassed for Sam – remember, he just lost to a door -- the cat takes charge and scares away Willie.
Reality: “Our long and exhaustive search has finally come to an end,” says Mark Gruffard, executive producer of America’s Funniest Home Videos. “We have a man who kicks, screams, and tumbles down stairwells as well as a cat that scratches people in the face. If we add a laugh track to this and combine it with footage of a fat man who is repeatedly hit in the groin with footballs, we can finally put this show to bed.”
Scenario # 6
What Happens: Sam learns the truth about his murder: his best friend Carl, the interesting guy who fixed all of those computer “glitches,” betrayed him. Before warning Molly, Sam unwinds by visiting with and taunting a psychic (Whoopi Goldberg). Also, I wonder when that door will make another appearance.
Hollywood Version: The audience is elated! Finally, Whoopi Goldberg (dressed in full Lion King garb) arrives to infuse this emotionally heavy plot with some comic relief… or at least some dialogue.
Reality: According to Sandra Beriste, clinical psychologist and author of It’s Not Me; It’s ME! Dealing with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, “A couple comprises only two people, not three. Here we have a controlling ghost who, just like when he was alive, is ineffectual. When things don’t go his way, he responds by throwing tantrums and bringing psychics into the relationship to alter the dynamic and get his way. Some find it funny; I find it deeply disturbing. I suggest that he search for a ghost therapist as soon as possible. Mental illness doesn’t end when we die.”
Scenario # 7
What Happens: Sam convinces Whoopi Goldberg to alert Molly of his presence (and of her own imminent danger).
Hollywood Version: Communication between Whoopi and Sam (the ghost!) breaks down after Whoopi reports unhappiness with Sam’s (the ghost’s!) “tone.” To mollify Whoopi, Sam (the ghost!) apologizes. Smugly satisfied, Whoopi continues. Also, I relay this information to a suicide hotline specialist; we make a suicide pact together.
Reality: Sadly (for men and ghosts across the globe), the same. Hollywood is right.
Scenario # 8
What Happens: After purposely spilling coffee on (and removing) his shirt, a frisky Carl attempts to seduce Molly.
Hollywood Version: Seeking more than intense hugging, Molly is receptive to Carl’s advances. Sam employs his usual fruitless punching and kicking; however, this time his efforts result in a falling picture frame. Startled, Molly puts on the brakes “for now.” Sam celebrates by hanging out with local ghosts and kicking cans around a subway station.
Reality: Frustrated with Sam’s continued ineffectual behavior and upset over his unleashing of Whoopi Goldberg upon her (and us all), Molly has sex with Carl and tells Sam to watch. She ascribes the moving picture frame to their palpable chemistry. Every time Carl screams in ecstasy, Molly responds, “Ditto!” Dejected, Sam kicks cans around the apartment. The cat remains embarrassed for him.
Scenario # 9
What Happens: As part of an elaborate scheme, Sam takes Whoopi Goldberg to the bank to open (and later close) an account.
Hollywood Version: Within 15 minutes (and despite Whoopi’s talking to herself in front of numerous bank managers), she walks out of the bank with a check for four million dollars.
Reality: “First of all, it typically takes two to three business days to process the paperwork for a new account,” says Rachel Dynate, executive vice president of TDBank North. “Secondly, if an account that holds four million dollars were opened and attempted to be closed within a few hours, that would be a red flag that carries with it a 10-day hold on all funds. Thirdly, we don’t issue cashier checks for amounts greater than $250,000, and finally, we don’t ever hand over money to someone who forgets her own name and speaks to invisible ghosts.”
Scenario # 10
What Happens: Willie and Carl are both accidentally (and hilariously) killed as a result of Sam’s spooky chair-pushing and keyboard-typing. Shortly before ascending to Heaven, Sam inhabits Whoopi Goldberg’s body and embraces Molly for one of his final, patented hugs.
Hollywood Version: The music (and audience’s emotions) swells as Whoopi Goldberg carefully caresses Molly in a scene that has been branded by critics as “touching” and “erotic.”
Reality: According to Dr. Stan Micavilk, Tufts Medical Center, “It’s recently been proven that obesity is the leading cause of erectile dysfunction. The scientific community is relieved. Until now, we all thought it was because of this scene and, in particular, Whoopi Goldberg.”
Final Thought: Death is a powerful force that can often chart the course of a grieving person’s life; however, it still will not build your self-confidence or improve your communication skills. The reality is that although most of us cannot agree on what awaits us after death, we’re all pretty sure we don’t want to spend that time with Whoopi Goldberg.