Defending Your Life is a 1991 American romantic comedy-fantasy film about a man who dies and arrives in the afterlife only to find that he must stand trial and justify his lifelong fears in order to advance to the next phase of existence; or be sent back to earth to do it again. The film was written by, directed by, and stars Albert Brooks. It also stars Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Lee Grant, and Buck Henry.
Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks), a Los Angeles advertising executive, dies in a car accident on his 39th birthday and is sent to the afterlife. He arrives in Judgment City, a Purgatory-like waiting area populated by the recently deceased of the western half of the United States, where he is to undergo the process of having his life on Earth judged. Daniel and the rest of the recently deceased are offered many Earth-like amenities and activities in the city while they undergo their judgment processes—from all-you-can-eat restaurants (which cause no weight gain and serve the best food), to bowling alleys and comedy clubs.
His defense attorney, Bob Diamond (Rip Torn), explains to Daniel that people from Earth use so little of their brains (only three to five percent) that they spend most of their lives functioning on the basis of their fears. "When you use more than five percent of your brain, you don't want to be on Earth, believe me," says Diamond. If the court determines that Daniel has conquered his fears, he will be sent on to the next phase of existence, where he will be able to use more of his brain and thus be able to experience more of what the universe has to offer. Otherwise, his soul will be reincarnated on Earth to live another life in another attempt at moving past his fears.
Daniel's judgment process is presided over by two judges (played by Lillian Lehman and George D. Wallace). Diamond argues that Daniel should move onto the next phase. His formidable opponent is Lena Foster (Lee Grant). Diamond informs Daniel that she is known as "the Dragon Lady." Each utilizes video-like footage from select days in the defendants' lives, shown to the judges to illustrate their case.