10 Films: Cremation, Scattering Ashes and Memorials
by J. Malec
Need ideas on ceremonies for spreading ashes? What are the differences between water cremation and traditional cremation? What happens when someone dies and has no family or recognized friends? Would you simply like to listen to someone else’s story, and perhaps laugh?
Read our reviews of five films and five documentaries that are engaging, informative and in some instances even uplifting.
In real life, specific questions need to be answered. “What do you want to accomplish with an ash scattering ceremony? How will the ceremony be done? Where will it take place? Who should be invited?” These types of considerations are addressed in our planning guide, Planning an Ash Scattering Memorial. But sometimes when we are faced with difficult choices around how to organize memorial arrangements, another type of input is helpful.
The magic of film can help us view things outside of our own lens. Understanding how others have dealt with the same challenges can be comforting, as well as add spontaneous humor at times. We’ve collected five films and five documentaries that contain a broad range of information and perspectives. Our reviews below provide a brief synopsis of each.
Five Films: Relationships, Cremation and Ash Scattering
The Big Lebowski (1998): This cult classic comedy features the crazy hijinks of a misanthropic bowling league team as they stumble in and out of fortune and trouble. One of several sub-plots is around fulfilling an obligation to scatter a fellow bowler’s ashes from an unlikely scattering urn - a Folger’s coffee can.
The Way (2010): A father seeks to scatter his son’s ashes along the Camino de Santiago, a famous pilgrimage route in Spain. Along the way, he meets fellow travelers who change the way he views the unresolved relationship he had with his son, as well as his outlook on life.
Last Orders (2001): Set in London, this film explores relationships between old friends as they seek to honor their buddy’s final wish, to be buried at sea. While observing this wish, they share the highs and lows of their respective stories, woven together through years of friendship.
Last Stop for Paul (2006): Two friends share the loss of a third, who passed before his time. They are resolved to sprinkle his ashes along the way to the Full Moon Festival in Thailand. The characters they meet on their journey lend to a great adventure as they fulfill their task, and give their buddy an unforgettable sendoff.
Departures (2008): This is a Japanese film about a professional musician who loses a prestigious position in the Tokyo orchestra and is forced to return to his hometown. He finds employment as an undertaker. In his new role, he learns to accept uncomfortable moments, and he develops a profound respect for the dead.
Stories are gateways to a road that might be unfamiliar or less traveled. Our blog, Scattering Ashes and Telling Your Loved One’s Story, provides great examples of real-life ash scattering ceremonies, as well as practical information to consider.
Five Documentaries: Death Industry, Death, and Cremation
TIME’s Ashes to Ashes: The Growing Popularity of Cremation features the Bradshaw Funeral Home in Stillwater, Minnesota, this short documentary illustrates the differences between traditional cremation by fire and alkaline-hydrolysis or water cremation.
PBS’s The Undertaking with author Thomas Lynch. Thomas Lynch is a well-known poet and author who shares insights gleaned as a small-town undertaker. He brilliantly captures the entire breadth of human experience around losing a loved one, and what it’s like to work with the dead first hand.
CNBC’s Death: It’s a Living. This documentary short focuses on the death industry as a whole, the good and the bad. It takes a special kind of person to work in funerary services. The industry is prone to predatory sales practices at a time when a grief-stricken family is unprepared to make sound decisions.
A Certain Kind of Death [Warning: website may contain images from the film some may find disturbing or graphic]. This independent feature explores what happens when someone dies and has no family or friends to see to final arrangements. With unblinking access to what happens behind the scenes, it does a good job of being honest about the realities without overstepping into the gruesome.
Children of the Pyre. While harsh, this documents seven children who work in India’s largest cremation grounds. The children endure extreme conditions. But through this, the film explores a different sentiment about death held in the East, which may be helpful for Westerners to consider when faced with death.
Watching a film can provide answers to unasked questions. In so doing, the film broadens one’s perspective and perhaps expands one’s worldview. For information specific to cremation, making memorial arrangements and choosing cremation urns, our planning guides provide a broad range of useful information when considering cremation and when planning a memorial service.
J. Malec is a visual artist and writer whose work often deals with themes related to loss and healing. She lives in Minneapolis, and spends much of her time practicing permaculture in the city.