Meet Joe Black (1998) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Death, who takes the form of a young man (Brad Pitt), asks a media mogul (Sir Anthony Hopkins) to act as a guide to teach him about life on Earth, and in the process, he falls in love with his guide's daughter (Claire Forlani).

  • William Parrish (Sir Anthony Hopkins), media tycoon, loving father, and still a human being, is about to celebrate his 65th birthday. One morning, he is contacted by the inevitable, by hallucination, as he thinks. Later, Death enters his home and his life, personified in a man's body: Joe Black (Brad Pitt) has arrived. His intention was to take William with him, but accidentally, Joe's former host and William's beautiful daughter Susan (Claire Forlani) have already met. Joe begins to develop certain interest in life on Earth, as well as in Susan, who has no clue with whom she's flirting.

  • Joe Black (Brad Pitt) and William Parrish (Sir Anthony Hopkins) enter into a most unusual gentleman's agreement. Wealthy media tycoon William Parrish leads a charmed existence until Death comes calling with an extraordinary proposition, he'll delay William's imminent demise in exchange for a tour of life. Innocent, enigmatic, and often hilarious, Joe disrupts William's world of privilege and corporate intrigue. But when he falls for William's beautiful daughter, Susan (Claire Forlani), Joe threatens to change the rules. Now William must fight not for his future, but for those he loves in this bittersweet tale of life and death.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • William Parish (Anthony Hopkins) is a multimillionaire who has run a successful empire for the past forty years in New York. But, after his wife passes away, he feels empty and becomes convinced that Death is now after him too. He hears strange voices in his head, mimicking his own words, but they are phony and ridicule him in every possible manner. William's eldest and somewhat meddlesome daughter, Allison (Marcia Gay Harden), is planning her father's 65th birthday party.

    Her sister Susan (Claire Forlani), an attractive young doctor, is involved with one of Bill's board members, Drew (Jake Weber). Her father disapproves of the relationship and suggests she look for someone more suited to her character. Early in the morning she meets a handsome and cheery stranger (Brad Pitt) in a café, but fails to learn his name before they leave. The young man is struck and killed by a car a few minutes later.

    Death (Brad Pitt) appears to Bill in his home. Bill finally realizes that the young man is the personification of death. But death wants a holiday from his taxing, eternal responsibility of taking the souls of the dead to the after life. He chooses William to be his guide strikes a deal with Bill: as long as Bill shows him around the world of mortals, Bill will get to live a little longer. Temporarily doubting his own sanity, he finally agrees. He is introduced to William's family at a dinner at his house, when Susan arrives a few minutes late. She immediately recognizes the young man she met earlier that day, but the young man as Death is unfamiliar with the practices of mortal men and does not remember their original meeting. He acts awkwardly around her and she is confused and upset by his sudden odd behavior, very unlike his actions earlier that day.

    When the dinner guests ask Bill for the name of his "old friend", Bill hesitatingly introduces him as "Joe Black". The family is puzzled by the sudden appearance of an old friend of their father's that they have never met. Joe insists that Bill allow him to accompany him everyplace he goes, and Bill reluctantly agrees. Bill knows that these are his last days on earth, but despite his best efforts, he fails to keep events from rapidly spiraling out of control. A merger has been proposed to the Board of Bill's company, and Drew actively supports the transaction, but Bill as Chairman vetoes the proposal. Drew is very antagonistic towards this sudden, new "old friend" of Bill's, and is disrespectful and rude towards him.

    Susan grows disaffected of her relationship with Drew, beginning to see him for who he really is, and is somewhat enamored of the diffident, seductive, mysterious Joe Black. They have sex and she tells Joe that she loves him. Joe enjoys the experiences of his flesh, of human feelings and desires, and is in love with her as well. This complicates matters, as Bill doesn't want Death to become involved with his daughter, and tells Joe that their deal didn't include this. Death has little care for Will's feelings and declares his intention to take Susan with him for his own.

    As his last birthday arrives, Bill makes a last attempt to demonstrate to Joe the meaning of true love and all it encompasses, especially honesty and sacrifice.

    Bill's 65th birthday on his large estate is a wonderful, perfect event. Joe attends, pretending to be an Internal Revenue Service agent. Bill makes a last attempt to demonstrate to Joe the meaning of true love and all it encompasses especially honesty and sacrifice. Joe comes to understand that his love for Susan means he has to sacrifice his desire to take Susan with him and allow her to live her life, and he abandons his plans to take her.

    Unknown to Bill, Drew is conspiring with a enemy of BIll's who is bidding to acquire Parrish Communications. Drew capitalizes on Bill's strange behavior. He uses information inadvertently given to him by Bill's son-in-law Quince (Jeffrey Tambor) and convinces the board to vote Bill out as Chairman. He also persuades the Board to approve the merger which Bill had decided to oppose. Quince is devastated by what happens to Bill as all but one other member of the board vote him out.

    Joe, as the IRS agent, uses his knowledge of Drew's actions and intimidates Drew into resigning from the company and Board and to leaving Susan. Joe helps get Bill reinstated as Chairman of the Board. Bill devotes his remaining hours of life at the party to his daughters Allison and Susan. Joe says his last goodbye to Susan, admitting in veiled terms that he isn't what he appears to be. She senses something of the truth behind his words but is unable or unwilling to vocalize this realization. A fireworks show marks the end of the party and Joe escorts Bill to the edge of the garden and Susan follows them.

    Joe takes Bill over the bridge and the two disappear. Susan saw them walking away and runs up to the bridge. She is surprised when Joe reappears and walks back over the bridge. Death has left with Bill. Joe is now the young man Susan met at the coffee shop at the start of the movie. The young man, unaware of the events which had transpired from the time of his death until his return, talks to Susan. After a few moments, Susan suddenly realises that Joe is not the person whom she fell in love with. In sorrow, she realises that Joe (Death) has left and she is now talking with Joe (young man at coffee shop). She gazes past Joe's shoulder at the spot where she last saw Joe (Death) and Bill. Tearing, she says to Joe (young man), "I wish you could have known my father". She then asks him, "What do we do now?". He replies, "It'll come to us.". She nods and agrees. They hold hands and walk back towards the celebration of (Bill's) life.

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