Movie Funerals vs. Real Life Funerals

This article was written by Kaylie Sullivan, on May 25, 2023

 6 Things Depicted on the Big Screen that Don’t Match Up With Funerals Today

sad crying woman at funeral

We all know that movies and TV tend to exaggerate reality or twist it to fit their narratives. That rings true when it comes to funeral scenes, too. We’re comparing and contrasting movie funerals with what you can actually expect at a funeral these days, and we’ve found six major differences that you need to know.

What to Wear to a Funeral

In any given funeral scene on the screen, you’ll see every guest in head-to-toe black and usually fairly formal attire. And ladies, don’t forget the all-important black hat or veil over your face! In reality, funeral guests wear a variety of attire, the average being about church-level formal. Family members of the deceased are in no way required to wear all black, and most funeral directors encourage family to come in whatever they are comfortable in.

Weeping Row

If you sit in the front row (or pew, they’re always pews) in a movie funeral, you absolutely have to be weeping openly, clutching a lace-edged handkerchief to your mouth. Many movies portray the family “line” as well, where every guest has to greet and shake hands in a consoling way. In reality, although this is not unheard of, it is a little old-fashioned to have at a funeral these days. We can relax the formality of these arrangements a bit and you’ll see guests mingling and chatting in a much more natural way.

Giant Portrait

Isn’t it required at every funeral to have a giant portrait of the deceased painted or printed on a stand at the front? The movies will make you think so, but this is actually pretty rare in real funerals. What we see a lot of are photo slideshows and framed picturescapes, like a mantlepiece or a piano might hold in a house. We think you can skip the giant portrait, which is good news.

Open Casket

Film directors just cannot pass up an opportunity for characters to react to the open casket in a TV funeral, which is why every funeral scene will have one. Nowadays, open caskets are very optional. Many families choose to schedule a viewing with a small number of close family and friends before the actual funeral, which they opt to hold with a closed casket instead. To each their own, and we want you to make the best choice for you, but you don’t have to follow the movies on this one.

Religious Mandate

The person leading the funeral in a movie seems always to be a priest or religious leader. Indeed, movie funerals are usually held in an austere, ancient church. That’s not what we are seeing in the 21st century—the setting of a funeral home is warm, inviting, and comfortable. You’ll feel much more like you’re in a friend’s living room than headed to confession, and we think this is a good move. It is not required for a religious leader to speak at a funeral or a burial; no scriptures need to be involved if you’re not feeling that.

Somber Atmosphere

You can picture it—low lighting and faint sniffles and weeping in the background. There may be candles, and it’s probably raining outside. That’s how funerals are depicted when a film director is in charge. Of course, at real-life funerals, people are sad and sometimes somber. However, the atmosphere of modern-day funerals are more like celebrations of life and reunions of friends and family members. Don’t be afraid to shed a few tears, but we think you’ll find the hopeful and optimistic atmosphere of real funerals much preferrable to ones on the silver screen.

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