Love and Death: The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

In 2014, Robin Williams and Mila Kunis starred in a film called The Angriest Man in Brooklyn. This movie tells the story of a man named Henry who discovers one day that he’s dying of a brain aneurysm, and his freaked-out, pill popping, affair-having, crazy cat lady doctor (Mila Kunis) ends up telling him that he has 90 minutes to live. What does one do with just 90 short minutes left?

Henry drops by the office to ask his colleagues, one of whom is his brother. Brother doesn’t really give a crap about this deep and thought-provoking question, and he shoos Henry out the door. Henry decides that he needs to sleep with his wife one last time, but his advances are met with a declaration that she’s in love with the neighbor and that Henry no longer means anything to her. Meanwhile, Henry has called his assistant and listed off the names of every important acquaintance in his life and requested that they attend an emergency party. It’s pretty incredible that a man who’s so angry at the world all the time (hence the movie’s title) can just tick off the names of 25 people who feel important to him. But sadly, only one shows up.

Even worse than the dismissive brother, the cheating wife, and the absent friends, though, is the reaction from Henry’s son. It turns out that Henry shunned his son, Tommy, for pursuing the life of a dancer rather than going into business with his father and uncle. It also turns out that Henry is the one who instilled in Tommy a love of dancing; there was a time when Henry was constantly affectionate and happy, and the two would dance together. After his son- Tommy’s brother- died, Henry reacted with pure and utter anger and hatred toward the entire world. And now, when Henry just wants to call Tommy to say that he loves him one more time before he dies, Tommy won’t pick up.

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Henry gets himself a video camera in a last-ditch attempt to get the message to Tommy. Now, keep in mind, it’s been almost an hour at this point. This guy thinks he has very little time left, and he could be spending it going somewhere special, eating great food, or doing anything else to make himself happy. He could even be in a hospital trying to extend his time. Instead, he’s spending his last moments completely alone, having been rejected by every person he loves, trying to let them know one last time that he loves them in spite of it all. His love is bigger than himself but not big enough to be seen by those whom it touches. But despite Henry’s anger and his tragedy, all he wants to do is show it.

This is what he says (see the whole speech here):

They say that love is pure and generous. It’s not. It’s small and selfish.

You know, I wanted you at the office because I couldn’t envision anything finer than having you next to me… What you wanted, what you dreamed, I didn’t want to hear it.

We’ve all heard the popular song and dance: love is patient, love is kind, love is letting someone go, love is caring for someone else more than you care for yourself. It goes on and on. What doesn’t get said, but which is just as true, if not more, is the other side of the coin. Love causes us to care about somebody so much that all we want is to have him or her around. It might mean sitting with us at our office; it might mean keeping them home when they really want to leave. Maybe it means pushing them toward what we do because, really, what we want is for them to be just a little bit more like us. Love causes people to make stupid decisions all the time. When you think about it, that is pretty selfish.

We see more examples of love’s selfishness and stupidity as the movie goes on. Thinking about his dad, Tommy shares a random memory: “When I was seven, he taught me how to play gin rummy. And I hated it, because I could never beat him…” Now, here’s where logic comes in and says, okay, you’re seven. Of course you can’t beat him. This is a great time for a teaching moment about perseverance or something. Instead: “…so he taught me how to cheat.”

Love is more profound than right or wrong. It’s more selfish than caring. Sometimes, you can love someone so much that it’s not good for either of you. (It can cause you to cheat at cards, push them away, or even skip out on the hospital when you have minutes left to live and a broken ankle from jumping off a bridge because, damn it, you are going to dance with your son.) Quite honestly, we humans can’t understand love. We’re clearly not capable of handling it, and we make mistakes with it all the time. Maybe we haven’t evolved enough yet. But what I know for sure- what even the Angriest Man in Brooklyn knew in his last moments- is that there’s no way we can live without it.

Love tears through our lives, and death doesn’t stop it either. We learned that in The Princess Bride. We learned it in Titanic. We learned it from Glee’s Quarterback. Recently, Fast & Furious 7 paid a beautiful tribute to fallen star Paul Walker with a Wiz Khalifa song called See You Again:

It’s been a long day without you, my friend

And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again

We’ve come a long way from where we began

And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again

All of these stories, and many more, have something in common. It’s this idea that love doesn’t stop when life does. To me, that seems like a universal message from every time humans deal with death. There seems to be an understanding that dead doesn’t mean unloved, and it most certainly doesn’t mean gone. Why else would we have these notions of praying for people after they die, or joining them again one day?

It seems that, sometimes, it may even take someone dying for the rest of us to realize or to celebrate the love that we have for them. Again, this isn’t love being kind. This is love waiting until we’re at our worst and taking that moment to hit us brutally hard. And yet we always embrace that hit. Sometimes, love speaks even louder in silence.

A final note: in the end, Henry doesn’t die after 90 minutes. He lives a miraculous 8 days, and those 8 days are filled with love and family. He asks Mila Kunis (remember, the depressed pill-popper) what she would do if she knew how long she had. Her response? “I would try and figure out how to be happy.”

I leave you with Robin Williams’ answer, and his final words of the film: “Then why don’t you?”

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