Bruce Willis wants to die. Or at least, the actor playing Bruce Willis wants to die. But that actor just so happens to be Bruce Willis.
Thus begins the latest metafictive tragicomedy from Charlie Kaufman, one of the most celebrated filmmakers of his era. Death Wish may be the bleakest and most absurd film he’s yet made, which is really saying something if you’re familiar with his oeuvre.
(The screenplay is credited to both Kaufman and Willis, though Kaufman has been known to play tricks in this area before, having fabricated a cowriter named ‘Donald Kaufman’ for Adaptation and a codirector named ‘Duke Johnson’ for his last feature Anomalisa.)
On the surface, the story of Death Wish is deceptively simple. Multimillionaire movie star Bruce Willis has accomplished everything he’s ever dreamed of doing, and now finds everything about his life irredeemably boring.
Willis is crippled by an indolent sense of meaninglessness, unable to give the laughably minimal effort necessary to make it seem like he gives a shit about the movies built around his persona. He’s become so lazy that he actually refuses to use the bathroom to relieve himself, preferring instead to use technologically advanced adult diapers (easter egg-type ads for the diapers abound in the background throughout the movie).
So when a screenplay entitled Death Wish crosses his lap (Willis spends much of the movie in various states of repose across his most treasured divan), the exhausting amount of concentration it takes him to even read the title page provides him with his first inspiration in decades. Bruce Willis decides it’s finally pack it in.
But wishing for your own death turns out to be a lot easier than actually killing yourself. After a series of gruesome suicide attempts gone haywire, Willis realizes it would be quicker to just hire a professional to take him out of the game.
The Hollywood legend first hires a doctor who specializes in assisted suicide (Catherine Keener) to help him end his misery. But when she tries to seduce him for his money, he’s forced to hire a wild-eyed hitman (Nicolas Cage) to get the job done.
The hitman ends up conspiring with Willis’ lawyer (a career-best Chris Cooper) to take control of the movie star’s estate in the event of his death by assassination. Soon, a court battle erupts between the doctor, the hitman, the lawyer, and Willis’ heirs. None of them particularly care about whether and how The Sixth Sense star dies, as long as they get their share of his sizable inheritance.
It’s at this point that the movies grows increasingly surreal and Kafkaesque. Willis deteriorates markedly and seems to age at a nonlinear rate. A probate judge (Jennifer Jason Leigh) considers the doctor’s petition claiming her famous patient/lover is now unable to reliably communicate and unaware of his surroundings. The judge appoints The Inspector (Tom Noonan) to investigate Willis’ living conditions with excruciating attention to detail.
The Inspector finds Willis incontinent, with a team of nurses on call to suction phlegm out of him up to 20 times a day. The Inspector also notices the fading action hero is obsessed with eating steak despite being on a feeding tube. Willis also demands, to the extent he can be understood, to engage in sexual activity every single day with the doctor or one of the female nurses.
The Inspector imposes order on Willis’ estate, eliminating all unnecessary staff and hangers-on. He speaks to Willis in haunted tones about resisting sudden prurient urges and fixations. He whispers to him descriptions of the remains of his life, which will be endlessly and painfully prolonged by a special machine of the Inspector’s own design. Hours and years bleed into an inescapable living nightmare. The Inspector’s soliloquy is interrupted only by Willis making grunting noises and crying uncontrollably.
The film concludes when Bruce Willis finally dies. And trust me, he dies hard.
TL;DR – Charlie Kaufman once again blends reality and fiction in the brutally depressing assisted suicide drama Death Wish (2018).
What the rest of the critics are saying:
“No movie will ever make you want to die more than this one.” – Clark Peeper, Inverse
“I thought Kaufman could descend into depressive solipsism no further. I was wrong.” – Fertrude Zelzah, Cinemablend
“I don’t think Bruce Willis is ever coming back, baby. And that’s better for him.” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com
“Finally someone has figured out how to properly utilize the total inertia of late period Bruce Willis.” – Millicent Weems, The Daily Gazette
“Everyone in this movie speaks with a lazy disenchantment, as if the effort to move one’s jaw was just too great to be endured.” – Boedaksang Penakluklautan, Vox
“Who could have anticipated the pairing of the overly cerebral Charlie Kaufman and overly physical Bruce Willis would be a match made in hell? Each seems to inspire in the other an almost pathological self-regard.” – Habish Gufry, Plugged In
75% liquid & seed retention – CERTIFIED JUICY™