Much like the film The Princess Bride, I’ve haven’t yet ran into any people who disliked The Bucket List after seeing it. As with anything I’m sure they’re out there, but most people of all ages find that it has a stellar cast, a excellent script that is both funny and touching, and the final production all comes together quite tightly. It’s a very moving but highly enjoyable experience if you haven’t experienced its rewards yet.
While studios vy for our attention with giant, effects-filled extravaganzas, it’s always been humorous to me that these simple stories, generated by boring, elderly people, are the ones that sneak up on us and become beloved. It is fitting that The Bucket List is deceptive about its value, because it’s a great lesson regarding a common human mistake.
The film features Morgan Freeman as a very plain but dedicated family man who works as a mechanic, but who reads about the world with the hope of one day seeing its wonders. In contrast, his hospital roommate is played by Jack Nicholson, the extremely wealthy man who owns the hospital they’re in, and who can go anywhere and do anything, but his life is otherwise empty. Where one man’s life has depth, the other’s is shallow.
Jack Nicholson is living the life we all believe we want. He has wealth, power, and the beautiful companions he surrounds himself with are easy to come by. But he’s dealing with a potentially fatal disease regardless, and all of his control of the hospital cannot help. Meanwhile Freeman feels like he’s dying with his dreams left inside of him, unlived. Nicholson has money, Freeman has dreams, and so despite the laments of Freeman’s wife and family, the two men set off together to tick off the items on their respective bucket lists.
Freeman’s wife is shocked he would leave his family considering his condition and potentially short time, but Freeman cannot escape the fact that he feels unfulfilled; that his life has been too small. In contrast, Nicholson appears totally fulfilled, but as the film progresses and the two men are away from home longer and longer, Nicholson begins to question the value of his life, as does Freeman. Where the rich man sees little, the poor man begins to recognise his wealth.
This is the nature of getting lost. It’s necessary in order to be found. People haven’t ruined their lives when they feel incomplete at 35 years old. They are on their way, first away from the relative peace and security of innocence, and eventually to boomerang our way back to what matters. We appreciate life when we are young and very old, but in the middle we’ll often get caught thinking too much and trying to achieve. The film lets us play out our dreams to their logical end, whereas we usually stop at the objects of our desires.
Money, travel, achievement nor power can hope to bring us the peace, connection and value that comes from our relationships with those around us. As the old saying goes, they don’t put luggage racks on hearses. We all only have so much time. Sure, there’s things we want. But how many of us would trade the value already in our lives to get it?
Take some time today to really check in with your values. If you had six months to live and someone offered you the chance to jet off with no complications, no worries, and no financial strain, to experience all of your material greatest dreams, would you trade what you already have? Would you sacrifice that precious time by being away? For anything at all?
Too often we do as the Morgan Freeman character does; we live rich and full lives wishing for a rich and full life. Take the time. Look for what matters. And if we find it, we should be grateful that we began to realise that value long before our final departure.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.