Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Death Becomes Her (1992)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Death Becomes Her (1992)

In director Robert Zemeckis' and Universal's extremely-funny, satirical, inventive and entertaining black comedy and fantasy, it told about obsessive attempts to alter the aging process due to modern-day vanity; jaw-dropping award-winning Visual Effects were used to great comic effect, some of which were very similar to the effects in the previous year's Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) - another Oscar winner for Visual Effects:

  • in the macabre film's grotesque plot that functioned as a morality play, personal animosities and hatreds were fought over many years between two long-standing, battling rivals who were originally childhood friends: glamorous and narcissistic musical star-actress diva Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) and her best friend, aspiring bookish writer Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn)
  • the film's opening and title credits sequence) were set in NYC in 1978 at the Fairbanks Theater, where decadent, bitchy and imperious Broadway actress Madeline was the star-performer in an adapted Tennessee Williams version of 'Sweet Bird of Youth' titled Songbird!, with Ann-Margret-inspired production numbers; the show was poorly received by some early-departing patrons who criticized Madeline's aging persona (a scene similar to one in Singin' in the Rain (1952))

Songbird! Playbill Cast Down on Rainy Theater Sidewalk by a Disgruntled Patron

Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) - Aging Broadway Star on Stage

Audience Members: (l to r) Dr. Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis) and Fiancee Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn)
  • backstage following the show, Madeline worried in front of a mirror: "Wrinkled, wrinkled little star, Hope they never see the scars"; she was visited there by two audience members, her friend-rival Helen Sharp and her fiancee - wimpy, mild-mannered plastic surgeon Dr. Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis), who was an exuberant fan of her performance; she met and entranced Menville after asking: "Do you think that I'm starting to need you?"
  • the scene shifted to Menville's medical office where he was performing eye-lift surgery on Madeline; Helen expressed long-held fears that she would seductively steal him away: ("She wants you because you're mine. I've lost men to her before"); she realized that he had failed "the Madeline Ashton test" - her fiancee broke off his engagement, and married Madeline instead
  • as a result of her breakup, seven years later, the overly-depressed and betrayed Helen went into a tailspin, living as a hermit in an unkempt Manhattan apartment #3C with numerous cats, and engaging in a junk-food binge, including eating from a large stock of cans of ready-made sugary cake frosting that tripled her weight to obese levels of about 200 pounds; she also became an obsessive and vengeful TV-addict, gleefully watching (and rewatching) a recorded video of one of Madeline's films in which she was choked to death
  • after being evicted by the police for not paying her rent to her landlord, and suffering a nervous breakdown; Helen was admitted to a psychiatric mental hospital in 1984 where her clinical therapy failed over a period of six months until her black psychologist (Alaina Reed Hall) suggested that Helen must obliterate Madeline from her thoughts: ("For any of us to have a life, you have got to forget about her! You have to erase her from your have to completely eliminate...")
  • another 7 years later by 1992, Madeline was living in Beverly Hills, CA, but her career had faltered and her looks had deteriorated; she had trained her maid Rose (Nancy Fish) to flatter her with praise about her good looks not just weekly but every morning; while still in bed, Madeline and husband Ernest received an invite to a book party to celebrate Helen's release of her new beauty-book novel "Forever Young"; Madeline mocked the invite card: "Oh, Forever Young! Right. And eternally fat!"
  • her marriage to her downtrodden and now-alcoholic husband Menville had become miserable; he was discovered passed out on the floor of the upstairs living room and was served a Bloody Mary by Rose as a wake-up drink; he asked about his wife: "Is it up yet?"; his beeper summoned him to his reconstructive mortician job at the West Lawn Mortuary, where his first duty that morning was to change the expression on the face of actor Fernando Rivas, who had died in his hot-tub while making love to his new 18 year-old fiancee from Cuba; the "expression of happiness" on his face was considered "completely inappropriate" by Menville's associate Mr. Franklin (William Frankfather) and required modifications
  • to prepare herself for the party, Madeline hastily paid a visit to Chagall's - her luxury, high-tech spa in BH, where she turned spiteful toward her young cosmetologist Anna Jones (Michelle Johnson) who refused to give her a second plasma separation procedure within a six month period; the tormented Madeline sobbed in despair: "Do you even care? You stand there with your 22-year-old skin and your tits like rocks and laugh at me!"; when Madeline offered a personal bribe, the BH spa owner Chagall (Ian Ogilvy) interceded, promptly dismissed Anna, and personally recommended treatment elsewhere; claiming he was a member of a "very select group," he offered Madeline the address of a rejuvenation specialist and New Age mystic Lisle Von Rhuman (Isabella Rossellini) [Note: The youthful Chagall wore a gold pin at his neck designating membership in her 'immortality' cult, but seemed to be having bodily-physical problems - twitching eyes.]
  • at the gala, red-carpet book party event, Helen (now aged 50) looked beautifully rejuvenated, svelte and slimmed down, radiant, and thin, wearing a sexy red dress; the jealously-raging Madeline was dumb-founded and became fearful that Helen would again steal the "unhappy" Ernest away from her; her fears were justified - while speaking to Ernest, Helen criticized Madeline was ruining his career as a plastic surgeon: "She married a brilliant surgeon and turned him into an undertaker"; she was eager to learn how Helen succeeded in becoming thin and youthful-looking
  • she was even more motivated when she happened to find her younger male lover Dakota Williams (Adam Storke) with a younger, naked female (Carrie Yazel) ("a little piece of meat") on the side, who then dumped her: "Go find someone your own age, Madeline!"; she drove erratically in a heavy rainstorm (a scene reminiscent of a similar one in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) after Lana Turner was discarded by Kirk Douglas)
  • the envious Madeline immediately sought out the wealthy socialite who had earlier been recommended to her by Chagall (Ian Ogilvy) - a devotee of her treatment; Madeline paid a late-night visit to Lisle who lived in a towering, massive, marble-laden Gothic Beverly Hills mansion with numerous handsome bodyguards (including Fabio)
  • the beautiful enchantress Lisle was introduced, wearing only an elaborate bead necklace covering her bare breasts; she knew the reason for Madeline's visit and empathized with Madeline's misery about old age ("This is life's ultimate cruelty. It offers us a taste of youth and vitality, and then it makes us witness our own decay"); she unveiled a mysterious immortality potion inside a gold box (with an Ankh symbol) and an inner egg - a youthful elixir that would cure aging and secure eternal life ("A touch of magic in this world obsessed with science. A tonic. A potion")

Lisle Von Rhuman (Isabella Rossellini)

A Box With an Ankh Symbol

Egg Structure Inside the Box

The Pink Potion Inside a Vial
  • Lisle claimed she was 71 years of age although she looked like a 38 year-old, and explained: "It stops the aging process dead in its tracks and forces it into retreat. Drink that potion and you'll never grow even one day older. Don't drink it, and continue to watch yourself rot"; Madeline was reluctant when she saw the exorbitant price to pay for the potion, and prepared to leave; Lisle pricked Madeline's finger with a knife, drew blood, and then dipped her knife in the potion, and back to Madeline's bloody cut, to demonstrate how the powerful elixir in her system revitalized her left hand and would do the same for her entire body; Madeline was very pleased with the immediate effects of the potion on her left hand - her wrinkles and age spots disappeared
  • Lisle explained how the drink was also a mixed blessing as a Faustian bargain; Madeline must conceal the potion's existence: ("The secret that we share must never become public"), and after 10 years of beauty, she was required to disappear from the public eye - "...before people become suspicious, you have to disappear from public view forever. You can retire. You can stage your own phony death or, as one of my clients simply said, 'I vant to be alone'" [Note: a reference to Greta Garbo]
  • the greedy Madeline turned over a check for payment and readily drank the potion ("Bottoms up!") - causing shivers, before Lisle could offer her another warning: ("Now a warning..."); Madeline responded incredulously: "NOW a warning?!"; Lisle urged her to treat her body well as she placed a gold pin on Madeline's bodice: "Take care of yourself. You and your body are going to be together a long time, be good to it. Siempre vive: Live forever"; before departing, she watched instantaneous changes taking place in her body via a mirror - she appeared more youthful and glamorous (her butt cheeks tightened and her drooping boobs rose and firmed up), and she exclaimed: "I'm a girl!"

Madeline: "Bottoms Up!"

Gold Pin Signifying 'Live Forever'

Madeline: "I'm a Girl!"
  • meanwhile during Madeline's absence, the vengeful Helen met with Ernest in his home, seduced him with a slinky red dress with a leg slit to reveal her leg, and stole his allegiance back, repeating the words: "Sexual. Sensual. Sexy. Sex. Sex. Sex!"; she convinced him to quit being weak-willed and to divorce his wife, and then join her to plot and kill Madeline; their plan (seen in a montage) was to invite her over for dinner and then overdose her with narconol (an alcohol-based tranquilizer) and booze, and stage a DUI car accident on Mulholland Dr. [Note: This was essentially the same murder plot in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).]
  • once Madeline returned home, she argued with Ernest and they called each other names: ("You're a cheap, tacky little tramp") and "You're a tragic, boozy, flaccid clown...You're not even a man anymore. And I need a man! A real man, not some drunken, broken-down flaccid undertaker who is just as dead below the waist as his clients are. Hey, I might have more fun with one of your clients! At least I'd know I'd be getting something stiff..."); incensed, he angrily choked her at the top of the stairs and then pushed her down the stairs where she broke her neck; in a panic, he called Helen, telling her that he believed that Madeline was dead from a lethal fall down the stairs
  • however, being immortal due to the potion, Madeline revived behind him as a 'living dead' banshee during his call; he found her approaching toward him with her head twisted backwards (180 degrees) and he screamed; [Note: A reference to Linda Blair's transformation in The Exorcist (1973)]; she performed a "backwards walk" with her rotated head, and gave a shocked cry: "My ass! I can see my ass!"; Ernest added: "And there's something really wrong with your neck, too"; she begged: "Ernest, what's wrong with me?" and he diagnosed a dislocated neck; she was able to twirl her rubbery neck around 360 degrees and straighten out her head

180 Degrees Twisted Head

"Backwards Walk" With Her Rotated Head

"My ass! I can see my ass!"
  • the two visited the Beverly Hills hospital where the attending befuddled ER doctor (Sydney Pollack) couldn't find any pulse or heartbeat; the frazzled doctor asked Ernest for a drink from his whiskey flask before he diagnosed a fractured wrist in three places and two shattered vertebrae with bone protrusions - without any pain; he declared that she was technically dead with a temperature below 80 degrees; a few moments later, the traumatized doctor's heart was being revived with defibrillator paddles in another operating room
  • Ernest also delivered his incredulous diagnosis: "You're sitting there, you're talking to me, but you're dead!" and Madeline promptly fainted; her body was sent to the morgue, where Ernest retrieved her from a body bag within a deep-freeze drawer, and returned her to their home; with materials taken from his mortuary (including formaldehyde), he repaired and freshened up her colorless, reanimated body with makeup paint
  • Helen arrived and expected to find Madeline dead as they had planned; the sneaky Madeline overheard them and realized the co-conspirators had plotted against her life (Helen: "We have to bury her in Death Valley and be done with her once and for all...She was a home wrecker. She was a man-eater. And she was a bad actress"); she approached and told the two that she had been listening; Helen exclaimed: "She's alive!"
  • the revived Madeline brandished a double-barreled shotgun and blasted her arch rival Helen Sharp's abdomen (a beaming Madeline glowed: "These are the things that make life worth living!") and sent her flying backwards into the garden pool; she then coerced Ernest through blackmail to help her prepare the body for burial: ("Do you know what they do to soft, bald, overweight Republicans in prison, Ernest?")
  • when Helen rejuvenated and crawled out of the pool, she was at first ignorant of the large non-fatal hole in her midriff, and she growled: "Look at me, Ernest! Just look at me! I'm soaking wet!"; suddenly, it occurred to Madeline that Helen was also "undead" - she confirmed it when she located the pin on Helen's blouse and exclaimed how Helen had also taken Lisle's magic potion formula for her own comeback: "You took the potion!"
  • a bitch fight occurred with shovels between Helen and Madeline - accusing each other of taking the identical potion; Madeline chortled: "You're a walking lie, Helen, and I can see right through you!" while peeking through the hole; Helen struck Madeline with a shovel and temporarily dislodged her head on her very flexible neck; the shadows of the two cat-fighters were reflected onto the floor [Note: An allusion to the sword duel in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).]; Madeline's head was also pounded into her body - but she was able to adjust it by pulling up on it; the two cat-fighters soon gave up trying to kill each other, because it was an impossibility ("We can't even hurt each other! We can't even inflict pain!"), and they eventually reconciled
  • when Ernest told them that he was preparing to leave for good, they convinced him to repair them and touch-up their outer looks before his final departure; but when they realized that both of their bodies still needed constant upkeep, he protested staying any longer: ("'Til death do us part! Well, you girls are dead. And I'm parting, Cheers!"); they selfishly connived to keep him under their command by getting him drunk; Ernest was knocked unconscious
  • Ernest awoke next to Lisle's pool where she was swimming naked; the two had schemed to get him to drink the potion, and Lisle pricked his finger to demonstrate the potion's power; Ernest was urgently begged by Lisle to take the potion, but he was reluctant to take the elixir (even though it was offered free of charge in exchange for his surgical skills): "I don't want to live forever. I mean, it sounds good, but what am I gonna do? What if I get bored?....And what if I get lonely? Who am I gonna hang around with, Madeleine and Helen?....I'll have to watch everyone around me die. I don't think this is right. This is not a dream. This is a nightmare! You people all have to be stopped"
Lisle's Offer of the Elixir-Potion to Ernest
  • he rejected drinking the potion, pocketed it, fled to another area of the mansion (pursued by her three guards Tom, Dick and Harry), and ran into a large room where Lisle (with Chagall's assistance) was hosting an evening spring party for all of her clients (with invited guests Greta Garbo (Bonnie Cahoon), Jim Morrison (Dave Brock), Marilyn Monroe (Stephanie Anderson), Andy Warhol (Bob Swain), Elvis (Ron Stein), and James Dean (Eric Clark)); as he fled via elevator to the rooftop, he was temporarily trapped and pursued by Madeline and Helen, who insisted that he drink the potion to save his life when suspended in mid-air many stories up; he adamantly refused and shouted out: "You're on your own!"
  • when the scaffolding broke, Ernest fell through the ceiling of stained glass windows (Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam) above the swimming pool where Jim Morrison (of The Doors) was poolside, accompanied by a disrobing blonde female (Lydia Peterkoch); he was able to successfully get away in James Dean's vintage Porsche, return home to pack his things, and head to the airport
  • the two rivals pursued Ernest, in vain, and finally realized and admitted that they had only each other to rely upon for support, friendship, and mutual maintenance of their deteriorating bodies: (Madeline: "We just have to be very careful with ourselves. We have to take care of each other. I'll paint your ass; you paint mine")
  • in the ending set 37 years into the future, heavily-black veiled Madeline and Helen attended (seated in the far back) a chapel funeral service for the praised and eulogized Ernest for his visionary and exemplary life and how he had learned "the secret of eternal life"; both smug, 'living dead' females in a fragile state of disrepair (for disobeying and not taking care of themselves) appeared to be living mannequins - physically-corrupted bodies with rotting, peeling, and cracked gray flesh; during their hasty, premature departure to touch up their bodies, they noisily and disruptively left the memorial service

At Ernest's Funeral 37 Years Later

Shattered Into Pieces: "Do you remember where you parked the car?"
  • as they proceeded down the outdoor steps of the church chattily complaining to each other, Helen lost her footing on their earlier dropped can of spray paint, and she tumbled down the flight of steps, deliberately taking Madeline with her; both of their bodies shattered into large pieces at the curbside - one of their disembodied hands annoyedly drummed its fingers; Helen's decapitated head sardonically muttered to Madeline's head: "Do you remember where you parked the car?"

Helen Sharp 7 Years Later - Obese and In a Tailspin

A Video of Madeline Being Strangled to Death - Watched Gleefully by Helen

Disturbed Helen In Physical Therapy in a Mental Institution

An Aging Madeline in 1992 in Beverly Hills, CA

Dr. Menville - Mortician at the West Lawn Mortuary

Madeline's 22 Year-old BH Spa Specialist Anna Jones (Michelle Johnson)

Spa Owner Chagall (Ian Ogilvy) - With a Gold Pin at his Neck, and With Eye Problems

Madeline with a Rejuvenated Helen at the Book Party Event

Madeline Entranced by the Magic Potion to Offer Youth

The Elixir Surging Through Cut in Madeline's Pricked Finger on Her Left Hand

Helen's Sexy Seduction and Scheming with Ernest to Divorce Madeline and Then Kill Her Rival

Montage of a Planned Plot to Kill Madeline In a Staged DUI Accident

Madeline Angrily Choked by Ernest at Top of Stairs and Pushed, Found With a Broken Neck

"Ernest, What's Wrong With Me?"

The Befuddled Doctor (Sydney Pollack) at the Beverly Hills Hospital

Helen Blasted in the Abdomen by a Revived Madeline's Shotgun

Madeline's Flexible Head During Bitch Fight With Shovels

The Two Co-Conspirators Plot To Get Ernest To Stay To Tend to Their Bodies

To Ernest: "Drink it!"

"We have to take care of each other"


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