The first true story of what happens after you die.
In an afterlife resembling the present-day US, people must prove their worth by showing in court how they have demonstrated courage.
Comedy, Fantasy, Romance
Afterlife, Prosecutor, Courage, Car Accident, Defense Lawyer
Fantasy Comedy, Romantic Comedy, Heaven-Can-Wait Fantasies, Satire
Redemption, Starting Over
Witty, Fanciful, Warm, Gentle, Quirky
Has Detailed Data (New)
1, 2, 3
US Box Office
Country Of Origin
Defending Your Life is a 1991 romantic comedy-fantasy film about a man who dies and arrives in the afterlife only to find that he must stand trial and justify his lifelong fears in order to advance to the next phase of life; or be sent back to earth to do it again. The film was written by, directed by, and stars Albert Brooks. It also stars Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Lee Grant, and Buck Henry.
Profile Bio Text
Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks), a Los Angeles advertising executive, dies in a car accident on his birthday and is sent to the afterlife. He arrives in Judgment City, a purgatory-like waiting area populated by the recently-deceased of the western half of the United States, where he is to undergo the process of having his fear-based life on earth judged. Daniel and the rest of the recently-deceased are offered many Earth-like amenities and activities in the city while they undergo their judgment processes -- from all-you-can-eat restaurants (which cause no weight gain and is the best food), to bowling alleys and comedy clubs.
As his defense attorney, Bob Diamond (Rip Torn), explains to Daniel, people from Earth use so little of their brains (3-5%) that they spend most of their lives functioning on the basis of their fears. "When you use more than 5% of your brain, you don't want to be on Earth, believe me," says Diamond. If the Judgement court determines that Daniel has conquered his fears, he will be sent on to the next phase of existence, where he will be able to use more of his brain and thus be able to experience more of what the universe has to offer. Otherwise, his soul will be reincarnated on Earth to live another life in another attempt at moving past his fears. In the process, he may advance up the universe's proverbial food chain.
Daniel's judgment process is presided over by two judges (played by Lillian Lehman and George D. Wallace). Diamond argues that Daniel should move onto the next phase. His formidable opponent is Lena Foster (Lee Grant), who Diamond informs Daniel is known as "the Dragon Lady." Each utilizes video-like footage from selected days in the defendants' lives, shown to the judges to illustrate their case.
During the procedure, Daniel meets and falls in love with Julia (Meryl Streep), a woman who lived a seemingly perfect life of courage and generosity, especially compared to his. The proceedings do not go well for Daniel. Foster shows a series of episodes in which Daniel did not overcome his fears, as well as various other bad decisions and mishaps. The final nail in his coffin, it seems, is when Foster, on the last day of arguments, plays footage of his previous night with Julia, in which he declines to sleep with her, for what Foster believes is his same fear and lack of courage. It is ruled that Daniel will return to Earth. Meanwhile, Julia is judged worthy to move on. Before saying goodbye Diamond comforts Daniel with the knowledge that the court is not infallible and just because Foster won it doesn't mean she's right. Daniel remains disappointed.
Daniel finds himself strapped to a seat on a tram poised to return to Earth, when he spots Julia on a different tram. On a spur-of-the-moment impulse he unstraps himself, escapes from the moving tram, and risks electrocution and injury to get to Julia. Although he cannot enter her tram at first, the entire event is being monitored by Diamond (and Foster), who convince the judges that this last-minute display of courage has earned Daniel the right to move on. The judges agree and open the doors on Julia’s tram, allowing Daniel in, reuniting him with Julia and allowing them both to move on to their next phases of existence together.
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