In “The Bucket List,” Jack Nicholson plays the rich, mean-spirited, over-bearing Edward Cole. In any other context, he would be considered a bad guy. He’s mean to his assistant. He treats people poorly, and he uses brutal honesty as a weapon. However, the fact that the viewer knows Cole is going to die, changes how he is perceived. It’s hard to be angry with someone who is going to die. But isn’t that the crux of life?
We are all going to die. Life is a journey toward death. No one survives. No one knows when his or her death will be. We don’t have to be diagnosed with a terminal illness to face death. If we can realize this core truth of humanity and life itself, we may be able to harness the sympathy for others that comes with realizing they are going to die.
Imagine knowing that everyone you meet is going to die and that death is imminent. If we can all face that single truth, maybe we can find it within us to be kinder to everyone we meet. Death is never far off for anyone. Treat them well, and you won’t have to regret any of your actions.
Nicholson is brilliant in this role, he’s played before – the loveable curmudgeon who somehow redeems himself. (“You make me want to be a better man.”) His chemistry with Morgan Freeman is fun and funny. Cole still treats his assistant poorly throughout the film, but finally finds redemption in the embrace of his grandchild and estranged daughter.
We don’t have scripts that allow us to have these outcomes, we have to write our own scripts. That means we have to find our own character arc and have the courage to change our inner narrative. Only then will we be able to find who we truly are, and as Edward Cole proves, we can create a better, more meaningful life with our loved ones as long as we’re willing to embrace what’s important, like forgiveness, and throw away everything that is crass and wrong with our society, including greed and selfishness.