Death felt like a looming presence in 2023, which might explain our collective need to explore the topic through cultural forms. Sometimes it is through the lens of media, fictional and real, that we can open ourselves up to having honest conversations around death, loss, and grief.
With this in mind, here are the movies, series, books, albums, and podcasts that brought us closer to death in 2023.
The Best Popular Media about Death and Dying in 2023
Barbie and Ken are having the time of their lives in the colorful and seemingly perfect world of Barbie Land. However, when they get a chance to go to the real world, they soon discover the joys and perils of living among humans.
When Barbie is forced to reckon with her existence, she begins to ask questions that are fundamental to the human experience. Barbie grapples with herself, her life, societal expectations, and importantly, with death.
“Do you guys ever think about dying?” Yes… yes we do.
The Boy and the Heron
Mahito, a young 12-year-old boy, struggles to settle in a new town after his mother’s death. However, when a talking heron informs Mahito that his mother is still alive, he enters an abandoned tower in search of her, which takes him to another world.
This beautiful, hand drawn animated film not only reflects on grief, loss, and war, but asks the audience how will you live now that you know grief? How will you reshape the world not built as a tomb? This is Miyazaki’s last film, and a culmination of his life’s work.
Dungeons and Dragons – Honor Among Thieves
A charming thief and a band of unlikely adventurers embark on an epic quest to retrieve a long lost relic, but their charming adventure goes dangerously awry when they run afoul of the wrong people.
What begins as a seemingly fun adventure or campaign, becomes a tender portrait of grief and accepting loss, and what it means to live fully.
A Murder at the End of the World
A Murder at the End of the World is a mystery series with a new kind of detective at the helm – a Gen Z amateur sleuth and tech-savvy hacker named “Darby Hart” (Emma Corrin). Darby and eight other guests are invited by a reclusive billionaire (Clive Owen) to participate in a retreat at a remote and dazzling location.
Actor and screenwriter, Brit Marling, has an impressive body of work, that explores many kinds of existential terror and curiosity. A Murder at the End of the World looks at how money, tech, and isolation all play a role in the narratives around death.
A young chef from the fine dining world returns to Chicago to run his family’s sandwich shop. Carmen Berzatto, a brilliant young chef from the fine-dining world is forced to return home to run his local family sandwich shop – the Original Beef of Chicagoland – after a heartbreaking death in his family.
The Bear’s 2nd season (2023) definitely made our list. Carmen deals with the death of a family member, the death of his career, and the anticipation of many other losses. However, The Bear is about so much more than death, it is a meditation on grief: grief for what was and what may come.
The Last of Us
The first season, based on the 2013 game, follows Joel (Pedro Pascal), a smuggler tasked with escorting the immune teenager Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across a post-apocalyptic United States.
The episode that stuck with us was episode 3 starring Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett. The show takes a step away from the main storyline in this episode to focus on an intimate queer relationship that ends in an almost Notebook-esque death that had us all sobbing on the couch.
Our Flag Means Death
Our Flag Means Death is a romantic comedy created by David Jenkins . The series is set in 1717 during the Golden Age of Piracy and is loosely based off the life of the pirate Stede Bonnet and his encounter with infamous pirate captain Blackbeard.
While death is in the title, what really sticks out from the series is the experience of extended grief. People die, but also love is lost, relationships are complicated, and grief is a force far more powerful than the most infamous pirate in history.
Wildly talented high school girls’ soccer players descend into savage clans after their plane crashes in the remote northern wilderness. Twenty-five years later, they discover that what began in the wild is far from over.
Yellowjackets presents a messy and unapologetic look at the way we carry trauma and can be haunted by grief. While the show often combines dark humor with pathos, Season 2, Episode 6: ‘Qui’ or Little One dedicates its time to an unflinching portrayal of pregnancy loss and mourning.
Obsessed with Death
Rob is Obsessed with Death and can’t stop talking about it. Luckily he welcomes some amazing guests on the show to discuss all things death related.
Hosted by Robert Petrillo, Obsessed With Death is an exploration of, well, death. We recommend the episodes on paranormal investigations, the death of Tupac Shakur, and of course, this episode with TalkDeath founder, Mandy Benoualid.
Hosts Sal and Im found themselves thrown into the world of mourning when their mothers both died unexpectedly. Their experiences led them to create Good Mourning, a podcast, online community, book, and grief education platform. The podcast discusses grief in an accessible, fun, and non-clinical way.
Dissect – In Rainbows season
Dissect is a podcast hosted by Cole Cuchna that breaks down entire albums song by song. I’ve listened to the past seasons that mostly focus on the lyrical production of various rap and hip hop albums, so I was surprised when Cole announced that this season would be detailing the 2007 Radiohead album, In Rainbows.
It turns out so much of In Rainbows is a contemplation on death and dying, following an almost fictionalized version of Thom Yorke through the battle of accepting and embracing death.
The Death Studies Podcast
The Death Studies Podcast is a platform for the diversity of voices in, around and contributing to the academic field of Death Studies.
Hosted by Dr. Bethan Michael-Fox and Dr. Renske Visser, The Death Studies Podcast is a platform for the diversity of voices in, around and contributing to the academic field of Death Studies. Check out their interview with TalkDeath co-founder, Jeremy Cohen.
Indigo DeSouza – All of This Will End
Indigo DeSouza has represented a heavy and loving relationship with death in their work from the beginning, and this new album is no exception. Here is an excerpt from the title track, All of This Will End:
You ask me what I think about this
Is there even a reason for it?
I don’t have answers, no one does
I’ve been finding comfort in that
There’s only love
There’s only moving through and trying your best
Sometimes it’s not enough
Who gives a fuck
All of this will end
All of this will end
Melanie Martinez – Portals
Melanie Martinez’ third album after a two-year hiatus is an enchanting representation of “themes of rebirth, growing embryos, and eggs incubating in forest,” according to Martinez herself. The song that stuck out most on this album is of course, DEATH, with lyrics that read:
Death is life, is death, is life, is death, is life, is
They’re carving my name in the grave again
The flowers are fresh and their faces wet
My body has died, but I’m still alive
Look over your shoulder, I’m back from the dead
Lighting all your candles to draw me in
Saying all the same things, I’m gone this time
Your words mean nothing, so take ’em back
And meet me here across the plane
The other side, I’m not far
Never Whistle at Night, edited by Shane Hawk
These wholly original and shiver-inducing tales introduce readers to ghosts, curses, hauntings, monstrous creatures, complex family legacies, desperate deeds, and chilling acts of revenge. Introduced and contextualized by bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones, these stories are a celebration of Indigenous peoples’ survival and imagination, and a glorious reveling in all the things an ill-advised whistle might summon.
A rich look into storytelling and meaning making, particularly around death, dying, and the unknown. You can find a copy via your local independent book seller.
The End of This World: Climate Justice in So-Called Canada – Crystal Lamerman et al.
The climate crisis is here, and the end of this world—a world built on land theft, resource extraction, and colonial genocide—is on the horizon. In this compelling roadmap to a livable future, Indigenous sovereignty and climate justice go hand in hand.
It’s impossible to talk about the current death landscape without mentioning and centering climate justice through an Indigenous lens. You can find a copy via your local independent book seller.
Brainwyrms by Alison Rumfit
When a transphobic woman bombs Frankie’s workplace, she blows up Frankie’s life with it. As the media descends like vultures, Frankie tries to cope with the carnage: binge-drinking, sleeping with strangers, pushing away her friends.
The exploration of trans lives being seen as disposable and political really stuck with me in this abject horror. Not for the faint-hearted, but if you’re okay with being grossed out and horrified – highly recommend! You can find a copy via your local independent book seller.
The Denial of Death – Ernest Becker
On the 50th Anniversary of Ernest Becker’s seminal work, Scribner has released a special edition of The Denial of Death. A Pulitzer Prize winner (an award that was given a few months after Becker’s death in 1974), The Denial of Death is a landmark meditation on death and the generative effects of the human desire for continuity.
These are our favorites, pooled by TalkDeath staff and followers on Instagram. Let us know what your favorite deathy media was this year, and we can’t wait to see how these important conversations are represented in 2024.