Watch: Bernie

Arts & Culture
Directed by Richard Linklater (Millennium Entertainment, 2012)

At the end of Annie Hall Woody Allen tells a joke about a guy whose brother thinks he is a chicken, but the fellow doesn’t want his sibling hospitalized because he needs the eggs. Allen, who believes that need, not love, is the glue of most relationships, would enjoy Richard Linklater’s darkly comic true crime story of loneliness and murder in a tiny East Texas town.

Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is an impossibly sweet assistant undertaker with an insatiable need to please customers, mourners, townsfolk, and the small legion of “little old ladies” filling the pews and hairdressers’ chairs of Carthage, Texas. Smoothing out every wrinkle of the funeral and graveside service, Bernie beautifies the deceased with exacting care, attends to the bereaved like an adoring son, and provides follow up that has nearly every widow in Carthage eating out of the palms of his perfectly manicured hands. Bernie desperately needs to be loved, and the folks of Carthage need him.

But of all the needy widows in Carthage, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) is perhaps the neediest, and also the meanest and richest. When Bernie sets his cap to win her love, it is a tough campaign, but one that secures great prizes, including expensive dinners, trips, and access to her bank accounts. Still, need is not love, and Marjorie’s hunger for Bernie’s undivided attention begins to strangle the Pied Piper of Carthage, who needs the affection and attention of the whole town, not just Marjorie’s.

In the end Bernie and Marjorie’s competing needs lead to her violent death—at the hands of Carthage’s most beloved citizen. Still, even after Marjorie’s body turns up in the freezer and Bernie confesses to shooting her four times in the back, the townsfolk refuse to abandon their beloved Bernie. After all, they need the “eggs.”


This article appeared in the August 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 8, page 42).