If there’s one thing that movies tell us about life, it’s that our existence is a Hobbesian gamble: Nasty, brutish, and short. In any given U.S. film, death can come at any time, typically in violent fashion. But the fear and anticipation that come from knowing your death is fast approaching can also engender meaningful reflections.
The following pre-death monologues are (mostly) given by characters who know that it’s all about to come to an end. Perhaps it’s during those tense moments, before someone’s life is extinguished, that you can truly get a window into someone’s soul. When faced with the ultimate loss, are they rebellious? Resigned? Relieved? As a consequence of this momentary window, these monologues are by turns hilarious, saddening, moving, and profound. Enjoy:
American Beauty: Kevin Spacey Gets Philosophical About Life
Deceased: Lester Burnham
Unfortunately, American Beauty has not aged well; it currently shares a place on the DVD shelf with other forgotten Best Picture winners like The English Patient and Crash. Yet despite its forgettability, it offers a really interesting window into Alan Ball’s philosophical take on life before he delved full bore into it on Six Feet Under. In this monologue, which represents the timeless/placeless and disembodied reflections of Lester Burnham, we’re meant to recognize that maybe we have more to give thanks for than we think.
Text: I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time… For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars… And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined my street… Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper… And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird… And Janie… And Janie… And… Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.
Deep Blue Sea: Samuel L. Jackson Gets Consumed By The Moment
Deceased: Russell Franklin
Alright, so this one isn’t really that great of a monologue. But in the years since Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea was released in 1999, it has grown into one of the most popular clips of Samuel L Jackson on the internet, representing both his penchant for loud, declarative phrases and his knack for choosing movies featuring excessive and unpredictable violence.
Text: Nature can be lethal, but it doesn’t hold a candle to man. Now you’ve seen how bad things can get, and how quick they can get that way. Well, they can get a whole lot worse, so we’re not going to fight anymore! We’re going to pull together, and we’re going to find a way to get out of here. First, we’re going to seal off this <Interrupted by Shark Attack>
Se7en: Kevin Spacey Gets Philosophical About Death
Deceased: John Doe
Despite the people that think of Se7en as a gimmicky movie that relies on John Doe’s methods of death to keep the viewer interested, I still think that Andrew Kevin Walker’s script was deeper than people gave it credit for (though not by too much). At its best, it was a commentary on our times, a No Country for Old Men–style tale, if No Country for Old Men had been made as a conventional thriller and been directed by David Fincher.
But none of that really applies to this speech at the end by Kevin Spacey. In this monologues, Spacey reveals the gut-wrenching information of his day’s misdeeds to baby-faced detective David Mills. The resulting “Will he or won’t he” tension is still one of the most tense scenes of any movie, at least the first time around.
Text: I tried to play husband. I tried to taste the life of a simple man. It didn’t work out. So I took a souvenier: Her pretty head…Because I envy your normal life, it seems that envy is my sin.
The Shawshank Redemption: James Whitmore Gets Busy Dying
Deceased: Brooks Hatlen
Frank Darabont’s Shawshank Redemption was so full of rich themes and characters like Brooks that scenes like this still have the capacity to move you. Brooks’ tear-jerking death is a commentary on the phenomenon of dependency and the brutal consequences of withdrawl. His recitation of his letter is still one of the best-delivered monologues of our times.
Text: Dear fellas, I can’t believe how fast things move on the outside. I saw an automobile once when I was a kid but now they’re everywhere. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry. The parole board got me into this halfway house called “The Brewer”. And a job bagging groceries at the Foodway. It’s hard work and I try to keep up but my hands hurt most of the time. I don’t think the store manager likes me very much. Sometimes after work I go to the park and feed the birds. I keep thinking Jake might just show up and say hello. But he never does. I hope wherever he is he’s okay and makin’ new friends. I have trouble sleepin’ at night. I have bad dreams like I’m falling. I wake up scared. Sometimes it takes me a while to remember where I am. Maybe I should get me a gun, an, an rob the Foodway so they’d send me home. I could shoot the manager while I was at it, sort of like a bonus. I guess I’m too old for that sort of nonsense anymore. I don’t like it here. I’m tired of being afraid all the time. I’ve decided not to stay. I doubt they’ll kick up any fuss. Not for an old crook like me.
True Romance: Dennis Hopper Teaches Genealogy
Deceased: Clifford Worley
Here by popular demand: This scene from Tarantino’s (written, not directed) True Romance is Dennis Hopper at his best – and yes, that will be the only time I will ever use the phrase “Dennis Hopper at his best.” Picture yourself in his shoes: Christopher Walken and some henchmen have just taken you hostage, threatening you to torture you in order that you may reveal your son’s whereabouts. Most people would just tell the information and wait for a quick death. Hopper chooses to take this opportunity to make racially inflammatory remarks to the mafia, knowing that great pain probably awaits. The results are those of cinematic legend.
Text: Ya know, I read a lot. Especially about things… about history. I find that shit fascinating. Here’s a fact I don’t know whether you know or not. Sicilians were spawned by niggers. It’s a fact. Yeah. You see, uh, Sicilians have, uh, black blood pumpin’ through their hearts. Hey, no, if eh, if eh, if you don’t believe me, uh, you can look it up. Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, uh, you see, uh, the Moors conquered Sicily. And the Moors are niggers. So you see, way back then, uh, Sicilians were like, uh, wops from Northern Italy. Ah, they all had blonde hair and blue eyes, but, uh, well, then the Moors moved in there, and uh, well, they changed the whole country. They did so much fuckin’ with Sicilian women, huh? That they changed the whole bloodline forever. That’s why blonde hair and blue eyes became black hair and dark skin. You know, it’s absolutely amazing to me to think that to this day, hundreds of years later, that, uh, that Sicilians still carry that nigger gene. Now this…No, I’m, no, I’m quoting… history. It’s written. It’s a fact, it’s written. Your ancestors are niggers. Uh-huh. Hey. Yeah. And, and your great-great-great-great grandmother fucked a nigger, ho, ho, yeah, and she had a half-nigger kid… now, if that’s a fact, tell me, am I lying? ‘Cause you, you’re part eggplant.
Blade Runner: Rutger Hauer Breaks Your Heart
Deceased: Roy Batty
Some people find this speech lame, but I read a really interesting interpretation of this scene on the message boards at CHUD: The whole film is about Roy Batty’s quasi-misguided desire to extend his life. He is bigger, stronger, and faster than most humans but his emotional maturity is like that of a teenager. Thus, this speech isn’t overly melodramatic due to bad script-writing – it’s that way because of his current condition and emotional state.
The allegory of the white dove flying into the night might be too much for some – to the rest of us Blade Runner fans, it’s heart-breaking.
Text: I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
Star Trek – The Wrath of Khan: Leonard Nimoy Propsers
A death that’s as moving as it is infamous for the way the Spock’s death was basically nullified in the following film, this scene demonstrates, definitively, why The Wrath of Khan is often referred to is the best Star Trek film.
Text: Ship out of danger? Do not grieve, Admiral – it is logical: the needs of the many outweigh [the needs of the few]….or the one. I never took the Kobayashi Maru test – until now. What do you think of my solution? I have been, and always will be, your friend. Live long, and propser.
Apocalypse Now – This is The End for Kurtz
Deceased: Walter Kurtz
Apologies for not including this on its original list: The ending to Coppola’s classic is still a triumph of editing, in a day and age where it was rare to see such bold combinations of visuals and music. Marlon Brando’s chilling last words cement his status as one of the greatest actors of all time.
Text: We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won’t allow them to write “fuck” on their airplanes because it’s obscene…the horror…the horror….
2001 – The HAL Serenade
Text: I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a… fraid. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you…Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I’m half crazy all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage. But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.
Kill Bill – David Carradine Gets Owned By The Ghost of Pai Mei
Text: You’re not a bad person. You’re a terrific person. You’re my favorite person, but every once in a while, you can be a real cunt.