The Bucket List is a 2007 comedy-drama film directed by Rob Reiner, written by Justin Zackham, and starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The main plot follows two terminally ill men (Nicholson and Freeman) on their road trip with a wish list of things to do before they "kick the bucket."
The film received its premiere on December 15, 2007 in Hollywood. It opened in limited release in the United States and Canada on December 25, 2007 and was distributed by Warner Bros. The film opened in wide release in the United States and Canada on January 11, 2008 and was released in the United Kingdom on February 8, 2008. The film was released in Australia on February 21, 2008.
Blue-collar mechanic Carter Chambers (Freeman) and billionaire hospital magnate Edward Cole (Nicholson) meet for the first time in the hospital after both have been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Although Edward is reluctant to share a ward with Carter, complaining that he "looks half-dead already," they become friends as they undergo their respective treatments. Carter is a gifted amateur historian and family man who had wanted to become a history professor, but in his youth had been "broke, black, and with a baby on the way", and thus never rose above his job at the McCreath body shop. Edward is a four-time divorced healthcare tycoon and cultured loner who enjoys nothing more than tormenting his personal valet/servant, Matthew (Hayes), whom he calls Thomas. He makes Matthew serve Carter as well as him and orders his employee and doctor (Morrow) to familiarize himself with Carter's health.
Carter begins writing a "bucket list," or things to do before he "kicks the bucket" (i.e dies). After hearing he has less than a year, Carter wads it up and tosses it on the floor. Edward finds it the next morning. He urges Carter to do everything on the list (suggesting he add things like skydiving) and offers to finance the trip. Carter agrees, despite the protests of his wife, Virginia (Todd).
The pair begins an around-the-world vacation. They both go skydiving together, get tattoos on their hands, climb the Pyramids, drive a Shellby Mustang, eat dinner at Chevre d'Or in France, ride bikes on the Great Wall of China, and attend a lion safari in Africa. They discuss a rare coffee and its unusual taste. Atop a tomb, viewing the Egyptian Pyramids, they confide about faith and family, revealing that Carter has long been feeling less in love with his wife and that Edward is deeply hurt by his estrangement with his only daughter, who disowned him after he sent some people to "take care of" her abusive husband.
In Hong Kong, Edward hires a prostitute (Rowena King) for Carter, who has never been with any woman but his wife. Carter declines and, realizing that he loves his wife, asks to return home. On the drive back, Carter reciprocates by trying to reunite Edward with his daughter. Edward angrily storms off. Carter returns home to his wife, children, and grandchildren where they have a nice family dinner telling stories and sharing jokes while a frustrated Edward stays home alone eating frozen dinners alone.
The family reunion is short-lived. In the preparation for a romantic interlude, Carter suffers a seizure and is rushed to the hospital. The cancer has spread to his brain. Edward, who is now in remission, visits him and they share a few moments, where Carter reveals to great amusement the disgusting origin of the "world's most rare coffee" (Kopi Luwak) they had discussed earlier, over which Edward obsesses and Carter has refused to drink. Carter crosses off "'laugh till I cry"" from his bucket list and insists Edward finish the list without him. Carter goes into surgery but tragically the procedure is unsuccessful and he dies on the operating table.
As Carter passes on and the news is given to his wife and family, we see Edward finally attempt to reconcile with his daughter. She not only accepts him back into her life but also introduces him to the granddaughter he never knew he had. After greeting the little girl with a kiss on the cheek, Edward crosses "kiss the most beautiful girl in the world" off the list.
Edward delivers a eulogy at the funeral, explaining that he and Carter had been complete strangers, but the last three months of Carter's life were the best three months of his (Edward's). He crosses off "help a complete stranger for a common good" from the list.
In the epilogue, it is revealed that Edward lived until the age of 81, and his ashes are brought to the top of the Himalayas. It turns out to be Matthew who does this, and as he places a Chock Full o' Nuts coffee can alongside another can, he crosses off the last item on the Bucket List ("witness something truly majestic") and places it between the coffee cans. Carter's narration reveals that the two cans contain their ashes and that Edward would've loved his place buried in the mountains.... "and it was against the law."
The concept of having a "bucket list" is in line with Buddhist principles of not having regrets, not having too many desires or expectations. A bucket list is an attempt to have a limited number of reasonable expectations that can occur. This is in keeping with The Four Noble Truths.
"Why do what you will regret? Why bring tears upon yourself? Do only what you do not regret, and fill yourself with joy." (Dhammapada, chapter 5)
"And how householder, does one entertain expectations? Here, householder, someone thinks: may I have such form in the future! May I have such feeling in the future! May I have such perception in the future! May I have such volitional formations in the future! May I have such consciousness in the future! It is in such a way that one entertains expectations. Having left home to roam without abode, in the village the sage is intimate with none; rid of sensual pleasures, without expectations, he would not engage people in dispute." Samyutta Nikaya 22.3
The bhikkhuni (nun) Uttara said, "Yours is the task to spend yourselves upon the Buddha's will which brings no remorse." Khuddaka Nikaya, Psalms of the Early Buddhists 7.175 (Pali Text Society translation)