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File:Death becomes her 6734.jpg

Imagine you could become immortal. You would never worry about aging or death - you would stay young and beautiful forever, and you would be in good company. The only catch is that after ten years, you would have to "disappear" in order to uphold The Masquerade. Now imagine that your biggest romantic rival has already taken this step.

Oh, and a warning: you will need to take very good care of your body, because you will be using it for a very long time...

Death Becomes Her is a 1992 dark comedy directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Goldie Hawn, Meryl Streep, and Bruce Willis. It won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.


This movie contains examples of:

 Helen Sharp, regarding Madeline Ashton: She was a homebreaker. She was a man-eater. And she was a bad actress.

  • Berserk Button: "Flaccid!"
    • For Madeline: "Cheap!" Madeline had already had the upper hand on Ernest - had she ignored his "Cheap!" remark, she'd have never fallen down the stairs.
  • Betty and Veronica: Helen, a shy, timid Betty in the beginning of the movie, is desperately afraid her fiance Ernest will fall for Madeline, her childhood friend, who is a flashy actress and definite Veronica. Depending on how you define the roles, though, they become less distinct after the first fifteen minutes of the movie.
  • Blessed with Suck: Shortly after finding out about each other's immortality, Helen and Madeline try to kill each other. They don't die, but their bodies do, and they are stuck in their broken, battered corpses for (it is implied) eternity. They use undertaking techniques just to keep themselves looking and moving like real people - but then their bodies simply fall apart.
    • Lisle's bargain seems a bad one from the beginning. You only get to enjoy your eternal youth for ten years. After that, you have to shut yourself away in a secluded mansion and spend eternity as the house pet of a creepy Theda Bara wannabe.
      • The immortals don't live in the mansion, they just visit it once a year for a party. They just need to keep a low profile, and stay unrecognisable to the public.
  • Blown Across the Room: Madeline does this to Helen.
  • Body Horror: Many of the Amusing Injuries throughout the movie fall under this. Though mostly it's Played for Laughs, when you think about living with all of those injuries, artificially masked, forever...
  • Came Back Wrong: Type 4.
  • The Cameo: Sydney Pollack is the first doctor Madeline sees post-stairs accident.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Ernest is seen trying to throw scalpels at a dartboard early in the film. He does poorly, presumably due to the years of alcoholism giving him shaky hands. Later on, after having one of his hands rejuvenated to display the powers of the potion, he throws a knife with perfect accuracy just when he needs to.
  • Crapsack World: Debatable: On one hand, appearance is everything and undeath is preferable to aging. On the other hand, Ernest achieved recognition and popularity in his twilight years due to his charity and achieved immortality that way.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Helen. Correction: Morbidly Obese Crazy Cat Lady.
  • Death by Falling Over: To be fair, there was a long flight on marble stairs involved...
  • Decoy Protagonist: A rare third-act switch.
  • Diamonds in the Buff: Lisle's enormous torso-covering necklace.
  • Did You Get a New Haircut?: Played straight. After Madeline has drunk a potion giving her eternal youth and beauty, her husband Ernest asks, "Change your hair?"
  • Elvis Has Left the Planet / Elvis Lives: The King is one of several famous people who took the immortality potion and faked his own death. He makes appearances from time to time to grab a few headlines.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Lisle and company are genuinely puzzled when Ernest refuses the potion. They are too self-centered and shallow to care about the reasons he has for not wanting to be immortal.
  • Fan Service: Lisle. And her boyfriends/bodyguards. "Keep your ass handy."
    • Michelle Johnson in one scene, before her boss shows up to refer Mad to Liesl.
  • Fat Suit. Hawn donned one for a segment. She never let her children see her wearing it, reportedly, because it scared them.
  • Femme Fatale: Both Madeline and Helen, but Helen really plays it up.

 Helen: You're a powerful sexual being, Ernest.

Ernest: I am?

Helen: Yes, you are. If I never told you before, it was because I wasn't the sort of girl who could say the word "sexual" without blushing. Well I can now. Sexual... sensual... sexy... sex... sex... sex...

 Ernest: She's dead!

Madeline: (mock gasp) She is? (gleeful) Oh. These are the moments that make life worth living.

    • Then:

 Ernest: Life in prison? Know what that means to a person in your condition?

Madeline: So negative. (eyes glittering) Can't you just let me enjoy the moment?

  • Genre Shift: The first two-thirds are a dark supernatural comedy about Helen and Madeleine's rivalry. Then it switches moods... and protagonists.
  • Gilligan Cut: Willis' Character: "I have absolutely no interest in Madeleine Ashton!" Cue the wedding.
  • Head Turned Backwards: "My ass! I can see my ass!"
  • Henpecked Husband: Ernest. So much. He would rather suffer a near-fatal fall than deal with his bitchy wife for the rest of his life.
  • Hidden Depths: Ernest, beaten down by years of horrible marriage, at first seems weak willed and buffoonish. By the end he comes across as the strongest and wisest character in the film.
  • Immortality: Type 6. Ernest also acheives a more aesoppish form of immortality in films end by being remembered after death for his accomplishments in life.
  • Immortality Hurts: Averted. Neither Madeline or Helen feel their injuries.
  • Irony as She Is Cast: Meryl Streep, who is probably the greatest living actress today, playing hammy actress Madeline Ashton.
    • In-universe example: Madeline is cast in a musical version of Sweet Bird of Youth, which is about an older woman desperately clinging to her youth and beauty.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Madeline accuses Ernest of this. He doesn't deny it. He does later remarry and have children, so it's probably cured by quitting drinking and being with someone who loves him.
  • Meaningful Background Event
  • Large Ham: Lisle.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Lisle ,also, Madeline and Helen to a lesser extent.
  • Meaningful Name. All over the place. For one, Ashton fears growing old. Sharp is what Helen becomes. Both women become Mad as Hel. And, of course, Ernest Menville.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: A natural result of the potion removing people's ability to feel pain.
  • The Masquerade: No one must know of the potion. Fore Shadowed when the plastic surgeon turns off his security camera when telling Madeline about Lislie.
  • Minor Injury Overreaction: This has stretched back to Mad and Hel's mutual girlhood.
  • The Musical: Songbird! is a Stylistic Suck adaptation of Sweet Bird of Youth.
  • Neck Snap: An understandable result of being pushed down a long flight of marble stairs. Less uderstandable is the fact that she gets up afterwards with her head twisted around backwards.
    • It looks like she was bitten by a radioactive owl.
  • Not Using the Z Word. No one in the film mentions zombies, but director Robert Zemeckis openly admits in interviews it's a zombie film, albeit glamorous literally Hollywood zombies.
  • Now You Tell Me.

 Madeline Ashton: Bottoms up! (drinks potion)

Lisle von Rhoman: Now, a warning...

Madeline Ashton: NOW a warning?!

  • Nuns Are Spooky: Ernest meets three of them coming out of the morgue. They glide.
  • Older Than They Look: Duh. Lampshaded by Lisle, who has Madeline guess her age (71). Madeline first guesses 38, which earns her a Death Glare from Lisle, and quickly re-guesses 28 and 23.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Isabella Rosselini as Lisle has some of the most hysterical moments in the film, despite having the least screentime.
    • And Catherine Bell as her body double.
  • Playing Against Type: Bruce Willis playing a cowardly henpecked husband. Bonus points for the character being literally impotent.
  • Rasputinian Death: Madeline and Helen get these by the end, only they don't take.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Ernest has them for a moment when Helen finishes outlining her plot to kill Madeline.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sliding Scale of Undead Regeneration
  • Soft Water: Ernest's swan dive off the top of a huge mansion, through a stained-glass skylight, and into an indoor pool leaves him with only a nasty-looking cut on his arm.
    • Possibly justified -- he hits the basically flat skylight flat on his back which would minimize immediate cuts and the window breaking would reduce the force of that impact considerably while still slowing down his speed enough to keep the water from killing him on second impact.
  • Staircase Tumble
  • Stalker Shrine: Helen Sharp has one of her nemesis and rival Madeline Ashton.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: "It's a dislocated neck!"
  • Waking Up At the Morgue: Justified here, because nobody could survive a tumble down a flight of marble stairs and a twisted around head... and technically, she didn't.
  • White Dwarf Starlet: Madeline Ashton.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: A surprisingly philosophical discussion of this trope.
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