‘The Burial’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: Is It Based On A True Story?

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The Burial is a new legal drama film that follows a real court case in 1995 in which a funeral home owner clashed against a corporate funeral home company in a tense legal battle. The film’s plot is loosely adapted from this very case and is centered around an unconventional and almost flashy lawyer, Willie E. Gary, who decides to represent the family business against the devilish corporation. The Burial employs a fair share of dramatizing and fictional instances to tell its story and is a rather easy and fun watch.

Spoiler Alert


Plot Summary: What Is The About?

The Burial begins inside a small Baptist church in Florida, where a man is invited on the pedestal to speak to the people gathered. The man introduces himself as Willie Gary, and even though his motivated speech makes him seem like a religious preacher at first, his real profession is revealed within a short time. Making use of his brilliant skills in public speaking and a somewhat flashy style of presenting his perspective, Willie is actually a lawyer gaining popularity by the day. The man deals in personal injury cases, and we are made witnesses to one such trial, too, in which an individual named Clovis Tubbs seeks compensation from a big food company after he was hit by one of their trucks. Appointed as the prosecuting lawyer, Willie cleverly charms his way into the minds of the jury and manages to win the case for his client. This victory continues a fantastic personal record for Willie, for the man has lost no case in the last twelve years.

Seated inside the courtroom during this trial is also another man, who becomes central to the story in The Burial. Jerry O’Keefe is a 75-year-old man from Mississippi, naturally closing in on the age of retirement. Throughout his career, O’Keefe has been running his family business of funeral homes and other services related to funerals. Having inherited the business from his father, Jerry intends to pass on the venture to his children but has been having severe financial trouble in recent times. Due to the funds in his account falling below the minimum required amount according to state law, the authorities revoked his license to sell burial insurance. Facing this monetary crisis, Jerry O’Keefe agrees to meet with a prospective buyer at his best friend and personal lawyer’s insistence. This buyer, Ray Loewen, is the owner of a rich Canadian burial services corporation that has been taking over small businesses in the USA, and his interest in Jerry’s venture makes sense.

The two sides meet in Canada and agree upon a deal despite the differences between the two men being quite apparent. However, even three months after the meeting, no official contract still comes from Loewen’s side, and Jerry starts to believe that the Canadian is just trying to cheat him. The man now wants to sue the Canadian businessman, and based on the advice of a junior lawyer named Hal Dockins, Jerry O’Keefe comes down to Florida to meet with the star lawyer, Willie Gary.


Why Does Willie Agree To Take Jerry’s Case?

When Jerry O’Keefe made up his mind to sue Ray Loewen, he initially listened to the counsel of his best friend, Mike Allred. This was natural, of course, because of their old acquaintance, but Jerry had also appointed a different lawyer to his team. Hal Dockins, the son of one of Jerry’s friends, had recently completed his law degree and had been providing counsel to Jerry in this case. It is Hal who first shows Jerry a video of Willie Gary and speaks of his impeccable record as a lawyer. Despite Willie only working in the field of personal injury, Hal wants to take a chance on the man because of his accomplishments.

In order to convince Jerry, Hal also speaks about a different angle from which Willie could be of great help to them. The case against Loewen had been lodged in a place called Hinds County, where the majority of residents were Black, therefore making it extremely possible that the judge and the jury would be Black too. As a young Black lawyer during the ‘90s, Hal had faced prejudice enough to realize that everyone had a bias against his skin color, and upon meeting with Mike Allred for the very first time, he understood the man’s prejudices. Although Allred is not necessarily a racist, he does have old-school thoughts about the matter and also has prejudices, which he himself later admits. Telling Jerry about how Allred would be a misfit at Hinds County, Hal convinces Jerry to go meet with Willie.

However, upon hearing the entire matter, Willie Gary is just not interested enough to take up the case. The lawyer is very particular about not fighting contract law cases and also makes it very clear that he has never had a white client yet, and neither does he want to change these two criteria. Thirdly, Willie adds, there is hardly any money in this case for him, as the case that Jerry had filed was only for 6 million dollars, which is too little for the lawyer.

The case has some validity since Jerry seems to have actually been wronged after his visit to Canada. During this meeting, Ray Loewen had agreed to buy off three funeral homes from O’Keefe and had also agreed to not sell burial insurance in Mississippi so that the family business could make money from that source. However, even after three months since the meeting, Loewen or his company had not sent over any official contract for the sale, and Hal had guessed that they were trying to cheat Jerry. Loewen knew about the fact that the Mississippi authorities would take away Jerry’s license to run the business anymore because of his shortage of funds, and that would lead to the elderly man having to sell off his business at a very cheap price. By stalling on the contract, Loewen was essentially waiting for this moment so that he could acquire the family business for a very low price.

Despite the scenario, Willie is unwilling to represent Jerry in court. As they are about to leave, though, Hal gives it one last chance and returns to Willie’s office to convince him. Statements about their confidence in the lawyer or about Jerry O’Keefe being a great ally to the Black community and being sternly anti-racist do not really change the lawyer’s mind. However, Hal then uses his last card—to talk about how large the burial services industry is and how big of a player Ray Loewen actually is. Through these numbers, Hal convinces Willie that suing Loewen could actually bring much more money than the 6 million dollars and would also make the lawyer’s name famous in different states of the country. Convinced by this promise of fame and money, Willie Gary agrees to take Jerry’s case.


How Does The Case Turn Into A Matter Of Race As Well?

There is understandably a racial charge in the plot of The Burial, as has been the case in real life as well. When the judge and the jury are appointed, they indeed turn out to be Black individuals, and so Hal’s decision to bring on Willie pays off. After joining the team and learning that Mike Allred was attempting to settle the case for only 8 million dollars, Willie immediately changed the demand and instead mentioned an almost impossible 100 million dollars as the settlement amount. Such an amount naturally shocked Loewen, and after some research, his team told him who Willie was. Along with this, Loewen also got to know the probability of getting an all-Black jury, for which he employed a similar tactic. Right before the trials are about to begin, Loewen appoints a team of Black lawyers led by Mame Downes.

As Jerry and Willie grow closer to each other, it is revealed that the lawyer’s decision to enter the profession was also based on the racial prejudice he had faced. Earlier in his life, when Willie was doing well and had become a father, he wanted to buy a property of his own. After contacting an apartment owner about a vacancy over the telephone, the two reached an agreement. However, when he and his family went over to the apartment, the owner suddenly denied having any vacancies. This was clearly because of Willie’s race, and at that very moment, he decided to control his anger and channel it into the only correct method of expressing it—through the profession of law. After completing his law degree and starting his practice, Willie did sue the apartment owner for discrimination and thus began his successful career as a lawyer.

When the trial begins, Willie eventually calls upon Jerry O’Keefe to testify so that the stories about him working against the KKK and helping Black communities can be shared with the jury. However, this also backfires when the defense lawyer, Mame, reveals the reason for Jerry’s financial troubles. He had gotten involved in some shady business dealings with a man who was found guilty of the crime and has been serving time in prison because of it. As Jerry’s public image takes a battering, he removes Willie from the role of lead prosecutor and instead puts faith in Allred once again. However, this decision again backfires massively when the defense digs up some serious information about the man.

Although the matter over which the case was being fought did not really have any racial tension or injustice, the way it was being fought definitely put a lot of emphasis on race and the unjust history of American society. Thus, when Mame figures out Allred to have some racial prejudice, she digs up on his family details and then presents in court that the man’s grandfather had been a long-serving member of the terribly racist Ku Klux Klan. This immediately causes disruption in court, and it is easily felt that the public sentiment quickly turns against Allred and his client, Jerry. Following this incident, Allred removed himself from the prosecution team, saying that it would hurt his best friend Jerry’s case if he still remained. Even all of Willie’s supporting lawyers leave, and he is left alone to continue with the prosecution.


Does Jerry Win The Case Against Loewen?

It is ultimately a racial matter that seals the fate of the court case. After the setbacks, Willie considers taking back the lawsuit when Hal finds a shady deal between Loewen and the National Baptist Convention, which is a church run by Black Americans. When this deal is investigated, Willie and Hal find out that the Canadian businessman and his corporation had made a donation to NBC in exchange for a deal that would make every member of the church a customer of the burial service company. While the estimated profit from this deal was around a billion dollars, the money donated to the church was only 200,000 dollars, making the supposed deal extremely lopsided and unfair.

Along with this, accusations made by various ex-employees and people cheated by the company are also presented in court. The jury and the masses are made aware of how the corporation would selectively charge more money from people who were poor and more desperate to honor their loved ones after their deaths. Overall, the company’s evil act of making use of the helplessness of people is very well established through the case. When Ray Loewen himself is called to testify, he shows no remorse or guilt for all that he and his company have done. Sensing a loss in the court trial, the entire Loewen team tries to make a settlement with Jerry, even offering him a high amount of 75 million dollars. But Jerry refuses any settlement, saying that he wants to truly end Loewen’s career, and instead puts faith in the court’s decision.

During The Burial‘s ending, the court decision is finally announced, and the jury finds Loewen guilty of all the charges. It orders the company to pay the 100 million dollars demanded in the lawsuit. Furthermore, an extra 400 million dollars is also ordered to be paid by Loewen as compensation for its wrongdoings against Jerry and his family business. Both Jerry and Willie are extremely happy about this win, with a total of 500 million dollars to be received by them, and it is with this jubilation that The Burial ends.

Along with photographs of the real people, The Burial also mentions what happened to them. After an appeal, the Loewen Group finally had to pay 175 million dollars as a settlement instead of the $500 million. Ray Loewen’s tenure at the company ended only two years after, as he was forced to resign. Jerry O’Keefe’s family business is still successfully running in the state of Mississippi, and the business has been actively donating to the welfare of Black communities. Willie Gary had developed a really strong friendship with Jerry after the trial, and they continued to be friends until the latter’s passing in 2016.


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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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