THE BURIAL. Golden age of “black” death

The Burial features brilliant performances by Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones.

Odys Korczyński

3 November 2023

The funeral industry is a business where there will always be customers, or so they say in urban legends that I’ve heard since childhood. It’s easy to believe because it’s a logical consequence of life – death. It will always be present, and there will never be a shortage of customers. However, this common belief is challenged by the unassuming legal drama The Burial featuring brilliant performances by Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones. So, if someone is looking for an unusual film for Halloween, somewhat about death but not entirely because it also explores life and the need for redemption for past wrongs, they can find it on Amazon.

In this film, there are enough ghosts to make a Halloween party as crowded as Camp Nou during the Cup Winners’ Cup final. These are extraordinary, historical ghosts buried in nameless graves, without even a cross, covered with moss, grass, trees, and sometimes other tombstones, each with a different story, shimmering as a better one for future generations. While they may be irrelevant to us, we have our own analogous stories, which our establishment has unfortunately progressively buried deep in the ground under different tombstones and symbols. But we haven’t forgotten. The creators of The Burial haven’t forgotten either, and they gave this educational reminder an entertaining, showman-like character sprinkled with social comedy. This mix makes the slightly over two hours of the legal drama serious enough to not lose sight of the problem and light enough to feel entertained. If someone wants to recommend a film for an unconventional Halloween, starting with this one is worthwhile before the ghosts of the past fully transform into vampires, werewolves, banshees, and grim-faced wanderers.

Very often, until a problem personally affects us, we tend to avoid it, secretly breathing a sigh of relief that it’s not us this time. Or we stare at its consequences in others, shrugging our shoulders, encountering a situation on the street or in the environment, but no reflection is triggered in our brains – it’s probably somewhere there, but we don’t occupy our thoughts with it. Is it not the same with the presence of funeral homes that have become a part of our urban landscape around cemeteries, and interestingly, hospitals? It’s not pleasant when on one side of the street, there’s a hospital where people go with the hope to come out alive, and on the other side, mushroom-like funeral homes with pretentious names like Kalia, Charon, or Concordia have sprouted on the lawn. It’s a profitable business, as evidenced by the flaunting of some businessmen even on television to showcase their extravagant lifestyles.

The Burial is precisely the type of film that prompts us to consider whether, albeit on a smaller scale, the funeral industry tries to influence people in this business precisely when they are most vulnerable, selling them a more expensive coffin along with a small package from a friendly stonemason, who, in turn, is friends with a specialist in floral arrangements around the corner. The paradox is that a poorer client may be the better one, as the film perfectly shows and explains this mechanism, combining dishonest business practices of a funeral corporation with the issue of racial segregation, typical of the southern United States. Death reaches everyone. So, some living try to make the most of it while they can. However, the death of the rich won’t benefit other rich people much; the problem lies in there being too few of them to surpass the funeral needs of those who don’t have much.

The Burial is a legal drama, but not typical of its genre. It more resembles a energetically led sermon of an engaged African-American preacher, starting with a suggestive speech by Willie E. Gary in a church in one of the black communities in the poor South of the USA. Then, the character quickly transitions to the courtroom, where he delivers the closing statement in defense of the victim in an accident. The juxtaposition of these scenes is deliberate – we witness Gary’s talent and acclimate ourselves to the rhythm in which the story of the lawsuit against the white Southern Jeremiah O’Keefe (Tommy Lee Jones) and the truly white, expansive funeral corporation Loewen Funeral Group will be presented.

In the plot, the main focus is on awarding compensation and proving the unfair systemic practices of the large company towards smaller funeral homes, which it systematically acquires. However, the screenplay by Doug Wright presents social divisions and the still prevalent abstract rules of behavior based on skin color, which are strictly American but, in reality, apply not only to race but primarily to wealth, if we were to relate them to our European world.

In generalizing, the wealthy capitalists almost always have and care about nothing, especially morality, as their main goal is to have even more. The poor, with few exceptions, have no chance of escaping the impoverished social class since they are systematically destined for almost feudal activities for large corporations that, in fact, wield power. This resembles the work of slaves on cotton and sugar cane plantations. However, the “slaves” don’t sip tea or wear fashionable tracksuits with prints advertised on Instagram by so-called influencers. This clever metaphorical transfer of slavery from the past to the present makes The Burial a socially engaged film, suitable for discussion within school film clubs to raise awareness among young people entering the workforce that the “golden era of death” mentioned by Ray Loewen is indeed a true statement, composed of many factors and actions that will not benefit us but will lead to even more drastic limitations on the freedoms of the so-called middle class.

The Burial is a production that seems to enter streaming without much fanfare. There is minimal promotion, and it doesn’t appear in reviews, as if it’s waiting for its delayed success, which may never come. So, Maggie Betts’ road to success might be long and obstacle-laden unless she continues to create clever, light yet serious stories. A notable feature of The Burial is the scene after the end credits, where Jamie Foxx, as the film’s Willie E. Gary, meets the real Gary, a lawyer who has gone, or rather conquered, a long way to transform from a self-absorbed, gold-cufflinked compensation hunter into a defender of people harmed by American capitalism.

Odys Korczyński

Odys Korczyński

For years he has been passionate about computer games, in particular RPG productions, film, medicine, religious studies, psychoanalysis, artificial intelligence, physics, bioethics, as well as audiovisual media. He considers the story of a film to be a means and a pretext to talk about human culture in general, whose cinematography is one of many splinters.

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