There is a very solemn burial scene in the new Harry Potter movie. I know it’s supposed to be moving and deeply emotional, but the scene doesn’t work if you’ve been to an actual funeral in the recent past. One of the primary functions of such a scene is to comfort us with the knowledge that “it’s only a movie”, and that everything will be ok when we leave the theatre.
But of course if you already know that everything won’t be ok when you leave the theatre, then such scenes have the unintended effect of pulling you out of the fantasy of the movie, and bringing you back to sad events in your real life.
In contrast, gallows humor definitely helps. Today my friend Gerry told me about something that had happened at his father’s funeral some years ago. His father’s body was lying in its coffin in the funeral home, and Gerry was paying his last respects — looking at his father one last time and giving him a final highly emotional kiss.
Gerry told me that as he was walking away from the coffin, the only other person in the room — the funeral director — spoke to him. “I’m sorry to have to say this,” the funeral director explained, “but it will be a closed casket ceremony, so officially I need to ask you now the following question: `Is the person lying in that coffin actually your father?'”
The sudden transition from a deeply personal and emotional moment to something so absurd was a bit much for Gerry, which explains what he did next. He looked the funeral director squarely in the eye, and said “I’m afraid that’s a question you’re going to have to ask my mother.”