A Whiff of Death in Comedies

A Whiff of Death in Comedies

Greetings Dear Readers,

As most of you know, Blue Damen recently released its full-length feature “Dark Before Dawn” and one of the many things I appreciated about it was that it lived up to its great title.  There was a scene towards the end of the film that involved a “Whiff of Death”– that point in the film where we sense that there were lives at stake here.  And with the stakes being raised the ending of the film had a stronger resolution.  But while “Dark Before Dawn” is a film to be taken seriously, this seems to be an actual guideline for comedies as well.  The movies “Groundhog Day”, “Dumb and Dumber” and “Up” are all charming and funny in their unique ways and on the surface seem very whimsical and lighthearted.  But upon closer inspection these movies also raise the stakes with a cameo by the Grim Reaper.

Groundhog Day Poster


In the film “Groundhog Day” Bill Murray plays Phil, a man who relives the same day over and over again.  It seems no matter what he does during the course of Groundhog Day he winds up waking up in the same bed at the same time as if nothing had changed.  This leads to mischief of all kinds, but pretty soon he becomes depressed and he attempts suicide several times.

Is this the “Whiff of Death”?

Not exactly, because what happens next is he gets a false sense of purpose when he says “I’m a god, not The God.  At least I don’t think.” Later on Phil decides to help a homeless man whom up until that point he hadn’t really noticed.  Phil discovers that not only did this old man pass away on Groundhog Day but no matter how many times Phil goes back to save him he cannot.  Phil gets more than a whiff as Phil winds up face-to-face with the old man as he takes his last breath. Phil learns that he is not in fact a god and that as a human he should live to make each moment and each day count.  By taking this lesson to heart Phil changes his life and makes each day count.

Dumb and Dumber Poster


In the film “Dumb and Dumber” Harry and Lloyd embark on a road trip to return a briefcase to a beautiful woman Lloyd wants to woo only to wind up entangled in a kidnapping conspiracy.  There are a lot of “yuk-yuks” and stupid jokes in this movie but I personally love and I think it’s got to be Jim Carey’s best movie.  So I thought I would use this completely ridiculous movie as one of my examples.

After an hour and a half of sheer absurdity the movie suddenly gets serious; the bad guy shoots Harry!  For just a moment we feel the terrible loss as Lloyd cries out “You shot my best friend, you bastard!”  Harry is of course not dead but rather the bad guy is a terrible shot.  Then the movie continues to be absurd.  With this small moment of seriousness the ending becomes a finale; Harry and Lloyd are actually worse off than they were in the beginning but at least they still have each other.

Up Poster


Finally the movie “Up” hits you over the head with the Grim Reaper factor within the first ten minutes of the film when Carl Frederickson becomes a widower.

“Hey!  I thought this was supposed to be a kids’ movie!”

Ellie, his wife of fifty years, passes away and leaves him alone in the world.  The entire movie is Carl dealing with that death by fulfilling a childhood promise — to bring their house to Paradise Falls via balloon.  The movie gets into a more silly and fun mood when Carl meets a chubby Wilderness Explorer scout, a talking dog and a gigantic bird.  Towards the end of the film it takes on its serious mode again when Carl refuses to help his new friends in order to complete his mission.

Then the real whiff of death comes as Carl sits in his house at Paradise Falls only to discover he remains alone, seemingly to die that way.  Then he finds a old message from his wife in their family album.  The message gives him new life and he knows that he must help his friends in order to save himself.

So it would seem that no matter what type of movie you’re watching there is inevitably a sense of danger and death as the stakes are raised; you know that it’s a quality movie when this happens because it leads to a more satisfying conclusion.  The sense of impending death getting avoided makes for a great pay-off at the end of every film.

Until next time, see you in the movies!


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