Today’s newest Coronavirus Cinema Collection focuses on Funeral Directors on Film. These movies and TV shows provide insights into the funeral business, as portrayed in the TV series Six Feet Under and the films The Loved One, My Girl, and Just Buried.
Coronavirus Cinema Collection film and video recommendations entertain while educating about funeral planning and end-of-life issues. Curated by Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death, these movies and shows are great for passing time while hunkering down at home during the coronavirus pandemic. View all Coronavirus Cinema Collection videos here.
Six Feet Under takes viewers behind the scenes at Fisher & Sons Funeral Home over the course of five seasons. It was a groundbreaking HBO series which had actual funeral directors as consultants on the program to ensure accuracy in its portrayal of the funeral business.
Each episode of Six Feet Under starts with somebody dying. The preparation of that person’s funeral or memorial service plays out over the course of the episode. They showed religious and non-religious events, burial and cremation, and a host of very unusual deaths. We also see how these funerals and the families of the deceased interact with the dysfunctional lives of the Fisher family.
The first episode starts with the death of Nathaniel Fisher, Sr., the founder of the funeral home. While driving his brand-new hearse, he sneaks a cigarette. The lit cigarette drops on the floor, he reaches for it and runs a red light. The hearse and driver get creamed by a bus. This is an indirect way of getting killed by smoking cigarettes.
Six Feet Under deals with a whole host of funeral industry issues which most people in the general public probably didn’t know about. The series shows the consolidation of the industry by a major corporation buying up independent funeral homes and putting them into their system. Yes, this really did happen in the 1990s. One of the storylines included an accident in the prep room where blood started bubbling up out of the drain in the floor. This actually happened at a real funeral home.
Six Feet Under also dealt with funeral trends, such as green burial, which was just developing in 2005, and rising cremation rates, which have only shot upward since then. The series also features quirky elements, such as the dead speaking to the living. The deceased Nathaniel Fisher, Sr. is a regular throughout the series. Buy the full DVD series here.
Just Buried is a quirky comedy that can teach you a few things about the funeral business. It stars Jay Baruchel, Rose Byrne, and Graham Greene.
A young man inherits a funeral home from his estranged father, and he knows nothing about running a business, let alone a funeral home. He falls in love with the female mortician on staff, only to find out she’s killing people to keep the business going.
There’s a scene in this Coronavirus Cinema Collection video where the mortician explains in great detail the process of body preparation and embalming.
Another element in Just Buried is a competition between funeral homes in a small town. There’s an instructional scene where the pair blows up the competitor’s crematory. When anyone with a pacemaker is cremated, the pacemaker is removed first. Why? Because pacemakers have batteries and batteries will explode in the retort. They put together a whole box of pacemakers into one body to create a huge explosion.
A touching coming-of-age story that includes the fact that funeral directors do have a family life and yes, even a love life. The film shows what it’s like to grow up in a home that is also a funeral home. In this video, we share an example of cookie-cutter obituary writing. The film also deals with the sensitive topic of the death of a child, and how funeral directors are impacted as well as their communities. Stars Dan Akroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky.
A stinging satire of the funeral business based on Evelyn Waugh’s book of the same name. A young Robert Morse plays a would-be poet who gets entangled with a cemetery entrepreneur (Jonathan Winters), a mom-obsessed mortician (Rod Steiger) and other bizarre characters played by John Gielgud, Robert Morley, Tab Hunter, Milton Berle, James Coburn and Liberace as a casket salesman.
The Loved One touches on a whole range of issues, including anti-Semitism, pet funerals and cremations, up-selling in the course of business, and even how funerals and weddings can be very similar events.
Bernie (2012): Bernie is the strange but true story of mild-mannered assistant funeral home director Bernie Tiede who befriends a much-hated wealthy widow, Marjorie Nugent. She takes advantage of his sweet nature and becomes demanding. He leaves the funeral home to become her personal assistant. The pressure drives him to kill her on November 19, 1996 and he hides her body in a freezer.
Then he goes on a spending spree with her money, much of which supports the community in Carthage, Texas. He goes to great lengths to create the illusion that she’s still alive for months. Finally, the jig is up. He’s convicted of her death and sentenced to life in prison. Stars Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey.
Bernie shows the many roles a funeral director can assume: corpse cosmetologist, event planner, sales person, singer, public relations person and expert consoler.
Get Low (2009): Based on the true story of Felix Breazeale, who planned a living funeral in 1938 so he could be there to enjoy it. Shows the elements of planning a funeral without the stress of having anyone dead (yet). Stars Robert Duvall, Bill Murray as the funeral director, and Sissy Spacek.
Undertaking Betty (2006): Undertaking Betty is a romantic comedy starring Alfred Molina, Brenda Blethyn and Christopher Walken. There are a number of interesting funerals in this film, as it pits two competing funeral directors in a small town in Wales against each other. One is traditional, the other is a big proponent of themed funerals. It offers lessons on personalizing funerals and planning ahead for funerals.
About Gail Rubin, CT
Funny films can help break the ice about serious subjects – medical care, end-of-life issues, estate planning, and funeral planning.
Certified Thanatologist Gail Rubin is a pioneering death educator available to do virtual and in-person presentations illustrated with comedic and dramatic video clips. Her presentations qualify for continuing education credits for medical professionals, hospice and social workers, attorneys, financial planners, funeral directors and other professionals who need CEUs. She has a license from the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation to use films and TV shows in her speaking engagements. Download a list of talk topics here.