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Defending Your Life

Defending Your Life title card

Year - 1991
Studio - Warner Bros.
Stars - Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Lee Grant
Director - Albert Brooks
Writing Credits - Albert Brooks (screenplay)
Music - Michael Gore


Advertising executive Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks) is distracted while driving his brand new BMW convertible, and is killed when he collides head-on with a bus. He arrives by tram in "Judgment City", where he will spend five days in a hearing room, defending his life to determine if he may move on to the next level, or return to Earth to "try it again."

After a sound night's sleep in a modest hotel room, he meets with his defense attorney, Bob Diamond (Rip Torn), who is optimistic about Daniel's case but cautions him that the prosecutor, Lena Foster (Lee Grant), is a "dragon lady." The night before his hearing, he meets another recent arrival, Julia (Meryl Streep), and they find themselves very much enjoying each other's company and sense of humor. Daniel discovers, however, that Julia's hotel is luxurious and with far more amenities than his.

Defending Your Life poster

The next morning, his hearing begins before two judges. Daniel, seeing the personal animosity between the two attorneys, Diamond and Foster, thinks there should be a "mistrial." The four day proceedings consist of viewing scenes from nine days in Daniel's life, that replay decisions he made, and how he responded to fearful situations. The attorneys argue about the interpretation of these events, Diamond depicting them as examples of courage, Foster seeing them as proof of character flaws. Rather than argue forcefully in his defense, Daniel meekly lets his attorney state his case. On the second day, he is represented by a substitute attorney (Buck Henry), who is content to allow Lena Foster's statements to stand without rebuttal.

In the evenings, Daniel and Julia eat fine dinners in Judgment City restaurants (where they find the food to be the best they've ever eaten), and they fall in love.

Daniel peeks in at Julia's hearing in progress and, it is obvious from the attitudes of the judges and attorneys, that her judgment will be favorable. But Daniel's fate is not so clear, as he awaits the final day's session.