In "Houseboat," Cary Grant Explains "Eternal Life"

[Reel Insights – A Continuing Series on Movies and Television Programs that Convey Unexpectedly Profound Spiritual Ideas.]


“Houseboat,” a Paramount Pictures release from 1958, is a comedy starring Cary Grant and Sophia Loren. Grant, a widower with three children, moves the family onto a houseboat and takes Loren in as a housekeeper with no skills at cooking or cleaning. The film is light-hearted, even bordering on slapstick, and Cary Grant sticks to his typical role of the debonair, bemused sophisticate. That is why it is so surprising when, two-thirds of the way into the film, while fishing off the deck of the houseboat, Grant attempts to explain the meaning of “life after death” to his eldest son.

Using a pitcher of water as a metaphor for a human being, Grant shows how the pitcher is nothing more than a container for the water, in the same way a man or woman’s body is a container for his or her “life force.” He challenges his son to “lose” the water, and the boy immediately pours some of it into the river. “The only thing is,” Grant observes, “It isn’t lost. It’s [become] part of the whole river.”

The son pours a bit more of the water onto the deck of the houseboat, but then grasps his father’s message. “I get the idea,” the kid says, “It will evaporate, become a cloud, and come down somewhere else as rain.”

In death, Grant says, we simply “go back into God’s universe, and the security of being part of all life again and of all nature. And for all we know, that sort of life after death may be very beautiful.”

This understanding of “life after death” may run counter to that of many religious people. Many Christians, for example, think of "life after death" as a place of reward or punishment that we go to after we die. But there are also many Christians who understand things a bit differently. Personally, I find Christ's teachings focused not on what happens after we die, but on how we are living our lives, and how we treat one another. Cary Grant's idea that we are all part of one giant system of recycled life seems (to me) to fit nicely with Christ's teachings. By understanding our role in the scheme of all life, we grow to appreciate the all living things as bearing an imprint of God's hand, which naturally compels us to "do unto others" as we would have them do unto us.

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