Today is the first day of fall, the season of death. And there is something about the dying season that humans like.
The oncoming season speaks death and decay like no other. The rise of cold weather forces us to dress warmer so we don’t freeze, trees kill their leaves while putting their trunks and roots into hibernation, and all creatures, including humans, hunker down, harvesting and canning food, building homes, and getting ready for winter.
If the natural patterns of fall just were not enough, humans had to go and create holidays celebrating death. Now, do not get me wrong. Death is always sad, and it is never the answer to ending a hard life, but when death does happen in our lives — and it does to everyone — we as humans have to find some way to accept it. That is what this article is about.
Seeing all the cold, decay, and death around us, an outside viewer might call us crazy for loving fall, either that or just assume that in a way we like watching things die.
However, the latter theory might not be as strange as you think. See, we do it in movies all the time; it just has to be done right. In the good movies, and in the fall season, you can always enjoy a good death scene, understand its purpose, and see its wider result.
Enjoying a Good Death Scene
Think of your favorite movies. More often than not, they probably have a really good death scene. From Boromir in Lord of the Rings to Bambi’s mom, there are some pretty famous death scenes that tug at audience’s heart strings enough to become entrenched in culture.
Movies with really good death scenes succeed because of their ability to connect with the audience and make them feel something for the characters. Fall seems to have the same effect; for example, who has a better death scene than the color-changing trees gliding down the mountains, or the warm summer days that turn slowly into creaky, windy fall nights?
Fall is the really good death scene of seasons, and we enjoy watching it.
Understanding the Purpose
But any story expert will tell you that there’s more to a death scene than the manner in which it happens — it has to have a purpose.
Death scenes in movies or TV shows that have no purpose alienate their audience and sometimes cannot even seem to commit to the death. But did anyone storm out of the movie theater when Ellie died, from UP? No! Because her death meant something to the story. Maybe it’s the same way with fall.
The death that autumn brings also means something to the world’s story. When leaves fall, they bring new life as they decompose and help fertilize new seeds in the ground. When fruit trees drop their fruit and pumpkin vines begin to shrivel we don’t storm out and try to put them back to the way they were. Instead, we recognize that they had a purpose for doing so.
Seeing the Results
Finally, if there is a death scene, and it had some kind of purpose, it must eventually bring closure.
This is the most important piece in the death trifecta. Movies that use it well recognize that it’s the one that makes us feel the strongest emotions and causes us to draw meaning, because we understand the world and each other better.
Just like fictional movie deaths, fall can help us understand the meaning of death in our own lives. When the plants die, as mentioned earlier, we have the harvest. As a result of the hard growing season, the trees give us beautiful red and yellow leaves to enjoy in our homes and yards, the pumpkin patches produce plump orange pumpkins for us to sit on and carve up and eat, the fruit trees give us piles of canned food to remember them by throughout the winter.
Likewise, a person’s death is not a single, lonely event in a purposeless life, but a celebration of family and friends and everyone they were connected to. We don’t like real life death scenes, but in a way seeing them all over in movies and even the fall season can help us understand their meaning.
Like the leaves of the trees, maybe human death can help create fertile ground in the lives of others to build up meaning and relationships. Rather than focus on death as the destroyer, we can focus on what the person’s fruits were and what their life work left behind.
That is probably why humans throughout history have taken the message of death that fall sends us and molded it into a beautiful celebration of life. Holidays like Halloween, Dia de los muertos, and Thanksgiving that sprang up in the autumn time are proof that death is something we embrace.
And embrace it we shall, autumn leaves and everything they entail.
– by Abbie Call
Feature image caption: A tree in Kirksville, Missouri, draws attention to itself by turning bright red before all the others do.
Abbie Call – Cannonville/Kirksville, Missouri
Abbie Call is a journalist and editor at The Byway. She graduated in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in editing and publishing from Brigham Young University. Her favorite topics to write about include anything local, Utah’s megadrought, and mental health and meaning in life. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hanging out with family, quilting and hiking with the dog she’s getting soon — fingers crossed.
Find Abbie on Threads @abbieb.call.