Death is a part of life, unfortunately.
It comes to all of us and the ones we love.
The movies have become incredibly adept at portraying this part of life, usually in a bloody, violent way.
While I like that, I also think that it can be incredibly cathartic to have a good funeral scene.
I don’t know anyone (except Harold and Maude) who like funerals, but here are some of the best funeral scenes that I’ve seen.
Please note, many of these funerals happen at pivotal moments of the movies…sometimes even at the end. If you haven’t seen the films, you may not want to read the articles about them.
Sorry. Hard to write these without a few spoilers.
But, really, if you haven’t seen The Godfather or The Wrath Of Khan…are you really a movie fan?
Everybody remembers the weddings of this movie, but few (maybe) remember that the funeral was actually a very big deal.
The story revolves, of course, around the comings and goings of Charles (Hugh Grant) and Carrie (Andie MacDowell). He admires her from afar, only to realize that she’ll be “the one that never was.” She’s charmed by him, but she’s attached, so it really doesn’t matter.
Through the course of the first two weddings, the two chat, but her relationship is getting stronger. So strong, in fact, that the third wedding is hers. Unfortunately, this is also where Gareth (Simon Callow) drops dead of a heart attack.
At Gareth’s funeral, his best friend, Matthew (Jahn Hannah), reveals with his overwhelming emotion that the two were actually a couple. No one realized it until his tearful reading of WH Auden’s Funeral Blues.
An incredibly funny and popular movie (the first British film to hit number one in America since A Fish Called Wanda in 1988), this scene shifted gears in a good way, bringing all of the tears to the eyes of the already charmed audiences. The nascent internet was abuzz with questions about the poem. People wanted to know everything about it and it definitely made for one of the most memorable scenes of a very memorable movie. Suddenly, this little British film with the nearly unknown Grant was something much better than we originally thought.
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)
Directed by Nicholas Meyer
Written by Jack B Sowards/Harve Bennett/Samuel A Peeples/Nicholas Meyer
Based on characters created by Gene Roddenberry
Another unexpected turn of events.
Star Trek is just supposed to be a nice sci-fi world where no one important dies, right? The bad guy never wins and the good guys always get away unscathed. That’s the way things work in Gene Roddenberry’s world…right?
Well, Wrath Of Khan may as well have been ripped from the future mind of Joss Whedon. No one expected Khan (Ricardo Montalban in his most famous role) to come so close to destroying the Enterprise and her crew. And they certainly didn’t expect Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to sacrifice himself to save the day.
Not only is his death scene wrought with emotion (“I have been…and always shall be…your friend.”), but his funeral is quite possibly the most emotional scenes in all of sci-fi. Kirk’s (William Shatner) cracking voice, Scotty’s bagpipes, the loading of the torpedo bay. And, of course, there’s the end of Kirk’s speech: “Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.” That’s the moment where every geek’s heart just breaks in two.
What hardly anyone thought about at the end of the film was that they shot Spock’s body onto the Genesis planet. For two years, everyone thought that their favorite character was dead forever.
THE GODFATHER (1972)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Francis Ford Coppola/Mario Puzo
Based on a book by Mario Puzo
In the early moments of The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is pleaded with by a man named Bonasera (Salvatore Corsitto) whose daughter was raped. He wants revenge. He wants the man who did it brought to some kind of justice. Vito wonders why he didn’t come to him before going to the police, but he acquiesces and promises to go after the man…but Bonasera may owe him a favor. He may not know what or when, but he will owe him. And he cannot refuse. Not even if it’s murder that he needs.
Bonasera is a funeral parlor owner, though, so it’s not murder that the Don will end up needing. It’s something much more personal. When his oldest son, Sonny (James Caan) is shot to pieces in an assassination, pleads with Bonasera to fix Sonny up. “I want you to use all your powers and all your skills. I don’t want his mother to see him this way.” It’s a heartbreaking appeal from an all-powerful man who suddenly has no power to a man who had no power in that first scene. It makes Don Vito more human than he seemed before. Here, he is just a loving father losing his son.
THE THIRD MAN (1949)
Directed by Carol Reed
Written by Graham Greene/Alexander Korda/Carol Reed/Orson Welles
While the funeral scene in The Third Man isn’t necessarily all that memorable, it is what instigates the entirety of one of the best films of the late 40s. Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) is a pretty ineffectual pulp novelist at the funeral for an old friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Lime invited him to Vienna, but was killed in an “accident” before they were able to meet up. Martins shows up at the funeral half way through and immediately starts to talk to Limes’ friends and colleagues to figure out what happened. What is revealed is a tale of intrigue, betrayal, war and conflicting stories.
All of this leads to one of the greatest character introductions in the history of film. Martins is drunkenly walking back to his flop through a slightly destroyed Vienna. He hears a cat meow and sees the cat at the feet of a man in the shadows. He starts to yell to the man, telling him what a bad spy his is. “Come out, come out, whoever you are!” An angry woman turns on her bedroom light and the illuminates the smirking face of none other than Harry Lime. Then he disappears before Martins can go to him. Welles’ smugness is put to great use here and it takes the film to a new level of greatness.
And to think. It all started with a rather modest funeral scene.
Let’s end this on a lighter note.
Written and directed by Kevin Smith
Speaking of modest funeral scenes, this one isn’t even seen, mostly because Kevin Smith didn’t have the budget for it. Fortunately, that just makes it funnier.
Randal and Dante (Jeff Anderson and Brian O’Halloran) are the “heroes” of the Clerks saga (soon to be continued in a third film). They’ve just spent most of the day working their dead-end jobs at the video and convenience stores. Then they learn that one of their old classmates (and Dante’s ex) has recently died and her funeral is today. They decide to close up shops and go to the wake. All that’s really shown is the two walking into the wake and then running out followed by a (small) angry mob.
We don’t find out what happened until later in the movie when they talk about how Randal knocked over the casket and the body rolled out.
The scene has been filmed since the original release, but in animated form. It almost holds up to your imagination of what might have happened to lead Randal to knock over a casket. Almost.