Our Take on the Movie – "My Life"

For students reading Principles and Choices© Book 1 ("Identity and Values"), Chapter 1

The movie "My Life," starring Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman, is about a married man (Bob Jones) who learns that he has terminal cancer at the same time that his wife is pregnant with their first child. He knows that he will die before his son is born, but he wants desperately to be a part of his son’s life as he grows up. So Bob secretly sets out on a tremendous project to video-record his own life, and narrates a very special homemade documentary for his unborn child. The movie is very touching and quite funny in places, as Bob records himself reading children’s books, teaching his son how to shave, showing him how to cook spaghetti, and even tutoring him on the "manly" way to enter a room and shake hands.

Unfortunately, things are complicated by the fact that, although Bob is wealthy and successful, he has never really been happy. He’s ashamed of his working-class father, has never felt loved by his family, is a control freak with no real spiritual depth, and doesn’t seem to have any connection to God or to anything beyond himself.

As Bob becomes weaker with his illness, he also becomes more dependent on others to help him do simple things like climb the stairs, shave, and eat. At first, he is very frustrated and angry about the control he is losing and the future life with his son that he will be missing. But slowly, he begins to let other people into his weakness and vulnerability. He allows himself to become dependent on others. His parents come to visit, and there is a very moving scene of tender forgiveness between him and his father. Eventually, he realizes that the true meaning of life is about love, forgiveness, letting go of pride and fear, and trusting in others.

This is beautifully illustrated when we learn that one of Bob’s greatest fears is a roller coaster that traumatized him as a child. Midway through the movie, he takes his wife to a carnival and decides to conquer his fear once and for all. He cautiously climbs into the roller coaster, but his habit of trusting only in himself causes him to grip the safety bar so hard that he has to pry his fingers loose at the end of the ride.

Later, at the end of the movie, as Bob is dying with his wife by his side, he suddenly has a vision of himself riding the roller coaster alone – only now, he is no longer afraid. He has learned that he is loved, and that he can trust in a power far greater than himself. In his dying vision, he lets go of the safety bar, puts his hands up in the air, begins to laugh, and shoots up the track, into the sky, and into a great white light. Although the movie never directly says so, you get the sense that Bob has seen God and has finally trusted and accepted God’s unconditional and eternal love for him.

We find that this story illustrates one man’s journey through what we call the "four levels of happiness." Bob moves from seeking wealth (Level 1), to seeking control and independence (Level 2), to seeking deep relationship with his family and friends (Level 3), to seeking God (Level 4). At the end of the movie, our interpretation is that Bob is finally able to let go of everything that he has tried to control for so long, and trusts God to take care of him, his family and friends, and even the wife and son he is leaving behind.

We like to interpret the movie as pointing in the direction of what we call "Happiness Level 4."