In the film Bernie, the lead character (whose name is also the title of the film), is a friendly funeral director who befriends a wealthy widow but eventually ends up resenting her as she becomes increasingly controlling of him. In the end, Bernie murders his wealthy friend, that pulls off a nine month sham pretending she is alive while spending her money.
Now a number of elements make this film somewhat unique. First is that it is based upon a true story. Secondly, and this is an odd combination, Jack Black plays the leading role. Third is the film being a black comedy, and fourth is probably Matthew McConaughey playing the District Attorney.
The film raises a number of ethical questions – both via the film itself and because of controversy surrounding the film. For example:
- How long after a crime has occurred is it acceptable to make a film or write a book about the occurrence?
- Is it appropriate to create a comedy which, to some extent, pokes fun at the victim?
- Was Bernie really a nice guy or a superb actor and manipulator?
- Do we accept that Bernie was in some senses receiving abuse, and if so, should this play any consideration in the ruling on his guilt or the extent of his punishment?
If you are looking for laughs – look elsewhere. I’m not a big fan of black comedy in the first place – I find it depressing and disturbing…but this film lacked all but the barest resemblances to a comedy. This is both a weakness (it plods along) and a strength (it takes a multi-faceted perspective to the crime, its perpetrator, and its victim and probes more deeply into the mind of Bernie than could have been accomplished in a straightforward comedy).
The film is rated PG-13 – most likely for the language which is sporadic throughout the film, mainly in retrospective interviews with individuals (played by actors) who knew Bernie and his victim, Marjorie Nugent.
Here are two interesting articles I found on the true crime:
- Joe Rhodes. “How My Wicked Aunt’s Murder Became a Shirley MacLaine Comedy.” The Telegraph. May 8th, 2012.
- Melanie Torre. “‘I Just Snapped,’ Bernie Tiede Speaks Out From Prison About the Movie Based On His Life.” KLTV. May 16th, 2012.
If you do watch the film I’m interested to know what you think of it, and of the ethical dilemmas it raises.