“Meet Joe Black” Plot Explained and Analysis

This post includes a brief analysis and an explanation about the ending of “Meet Joe Black” (1998). Beware of spoilers.

Directed by Martin Brest, the 1998 fantasy drama stars Anthony Hopkins as William Parrish, Brad Pitt as Joe Black and Claire Forlani as Susan Parrish.

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The film “Meet Joe Black” is about a media tycoon, William “Bill” Parrish, who meets “Death”. However, the entity assumes the form of a young man whom William names Joe Black.

What Happens in “Meet Joe Black”? (Plot Explained)

Joe makes an unusual deal with William: he will postpone the tycoon’s death if the latter agrees to be his “guide”. “Death” wants to experience life and asks to stay with William and his family for a while.

To William’s surprise, Joe and Susan (William’s youngest daughter) have met each other before. At the time, Joe wasn’t “Death” yet. She met the young man at a coffee shop. But he died shortly after parting ways with Susan. Nonetheless, the latter is completely clueless about this.

During his time on “Earth”, Joe learns about human emotions, relationships and pleasure. He even falls in love with Susan. But she is already seeing a man named Drew. He is one of Parrish’s associates who is secretly plotting to take over William’s company.

Meanwhile, William is not happy about Joe and Susan. During the tycoon’s birthday party, Joe announces his intention of taking Susan with him. William strongly opposes the idea and reminds Joe about the value of life and the true meaning of love.

After dealing with Drew’s schemes, William spends a few more moments with his daughters. Susan realizes that Joe is not the young man she met at the coffee shop. Joe decides to let Susan go and let her live. Then, Joe and William cross the bridge and disappear.

The Ending of “Meet Joe Black” Explained

“Meet Joe Black” ends with Susan seeing Joe coming back from the other side. Although the young man is confused about his whereabouts, he can’t take his eyes off of Susan. Together, they hold hands and walk back to the party.

Did Susan know Joe was “Death” in the end?

Susan did not know Joe Black was “Death” until the end of the film. Her initial interest in Joe comes from their short interaction at the coffee shop. Susan recognized him as the charming young man she felt an instant connection with.

During their last interaction, Susan realized that Joe is not the young man she had previously met. Although Susan never acknowledged him as “Death”, she felt that he was “different”. Then, her suspicions are confirmed when Joe informs her that he is taking William away. Despite the shock, Susan also felt grateful for the extra time she had with her father.

Where did Bill’s body go at the end of “Meet Joe Black”?

The ending of “Meet Joe Black” suggests that Joe took Bill’s soul with him, leaving their physical bodies behind. Both went to the afterlife after crossing the bridge. The person that comes back from the bridge is the young man, whose body Joe had previously “borrowed”.

It seems that “Death” (or “Joe”) left the young man’s body behind. After leaving his human “vessel”, Joe restored its previous owner’s life and consciousness as a gift to Susan. This way, Susan could still have a chance to be happy with someone who resembled Joe.

“Meet Joe Black” Analysis and Themes

Through Joe and William’s journey, “Meet Joe Black” tries to convey the message that life is precious and unpredictable. For that same reason, we should cherish every moment and every person we love. Also, the film serves as a strong reminder that death is inevitable and natural. Individuals should not fear it or avoid it, but accept it with grace and dignity.

The film explores the meaning of life and death through the eyes of a personified “Death”, Joe Black. Since he has the power to postpone William Parrish’s death, Joe used it as leverage to learn more about the human existence. Along the way, Joe falls in love and faces a dilemma between duty and desire.

“Meet Joe Black” challenges viewers to reflect on their own lives and relationships. In addition, it highlights the beauty and mystery of the world. Having said that, there are three main themes in “Meet Joe Black”: exploration of life and death, love and acceptance.

Exploration of Life and Death

So in the film, “Death” takes a human form and experiences life for the first time. This exploration is mainly seen through Joe Black’s fascination with ordinary things. Some of these instances are his “newfound love” for peanut butter and enjoying family dinners. Despite the bright side of the human experience, there is also death and its inevitability.


During his time with the Parrish family, Joe Black also experiences, for the first time, love. He falls in love with a human woman, Susan (William’s daughter). Nonetheless, their love and relationship are rather complex because they belong to different worlds. There is also paternal love portrayed in the film. Although William Parrish loved his daughters, he didn’t always show them affection.


Lastly, acceptance is another central theme in “Meet Joe Black”. William Parrish had to learn to accept his impending death and make peace with his family. The same goes for Joe, who had to “honour” his role and duties as “Death”. In order to do that, Joe had to let go of his personal desires and let Susan live.

Final Thoughts

“Meet Joe Black” has a very intriguing premise. It uses “Death” as a character and his journey on Earth as a pretext to explore existential themes such as life and death. Through the eyes of “Joe Black”, the film invites its audience to also, in a way, experience what it is like to be human for the first time.

Some critics labelled Brad Pitt’s performance as “dull”, but I believe they are missing the point. In my opinion, the actor’s performance was adequate for the role. Pitt’s seemingly aloof and clueless demeanour reflects the character’s unfamiliarity with the human world. In my opinion, the actor’s performance is not lacking in depth. Instead, it’s a nuanced portrayal of an otherworldly being trying to understand the human condition.

The film’s pacing, despite its three-hour runtime, is well executed. It allows the audience to fully immerse themselves in the story and its characters. Personally, I didn’t find the film “too long” or “too slow”. Everything served a purpose, both the length and pace of the film allowed for added depth to the narrative and a more meaningful exploration of its themes.

“Meet Joe Black” is a very pleasing cinematic experience. But more than that, it challenges the viewers to reflect on their own mortality and ponder the meaning of life. Although the film doesn’t provide definitive answers, it encourages introspection and contemplation. Overall, “Meet Joe Black” is a noteworthy watch.