Flatliners

Back in 1990, the original Flatliners headlined with some of the hottest young talents in Hollywood. Julia Roberts, Keifer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon and William Baldwin all went on to make their mark in film over the next two decades. It went to the top spot in the US and proved to be a nominal hit for director Joel Schumacher. It was an interesting concept that plays against the curiosity that mankind has with what happens after death and if we will be held to account for our sins.

What happens after death? It is a philosophical, psychological and spiritual consideration that has driven people and societies to search for the answer. Death is subject that has driven Courtney Holmes (Ellen Page) as a medical student. She has been able to rise to the top of her class academically while investigating this subject matter. One night she recruits some of her fellow students to assist in an experiment to seek out this elusive query in her life. The only hurdle in her plan is that she needs to die.

She convinces Jamie (James Norton) and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) to help in her death and subsequent resuscitation. Despite the risk, they assist in the procedure and with a few challenges they see it through and Courtney can share her experience. Each of the members of this naive crew takes a turn but they realise that they may have opened the door to their past that should have stayed closed.

This existential question is fascinating to ponder, but the issue that should be addressed is why this film was remade. This chapter into the exploration of the afterlife does not offer anything new to the topic or cinema and should not motivate anyone to seek out the original. Flatliners was a storyline that should not have been resurrected.

The vastness of the issues of director Niels Arden Oplev’s (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) film comes down to one issue, identity. What is this movie meant to represent? There are exploratory touches into mortality, morality, the human condition, psychological horror and it even contains a message against texting and driving. If the focus had remained in one of these subjects, it could have been a fascinating study of life on earth and the great beyond. The issue is that in trying to make a statement on all of these topics turned this spiritual quest into a muddled mess of primordial ooze.

Even though the initial film was relatively forgettable, one thing it did offer was a springboard for some rising stars of that era. Ellen Page does attempt to salvage the script with her performance, but the rest of the cast and the writing never manage to capture the imagination of the audience. With this talented ensemble cast, there was hope for a few standout moments, but they never managed to appear. The characters became less appealing as the film continues and eventually things move toward a morally ambiguous conclusion. From the confusing message, the ordinary working and the weak ending, each component causes the whole experience to flatline with little hope of revival.

REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 

Do you wonder what comes after death? Death is not a new subject in the world of cinema. The characters in Flatliners initial query becomes a lesson in forgiveness and selfish ambition. Their discovery eventually turns into a nightmare and leaves them with squarely in a moral conundrum, opposed to finding that answers they sought originally.

Thankfully, the Bible provides most of the answers that the young people were searching for in the film. This is where the promise of eternal life that comes from the God of the Bible truly brings this subject matter to life. To dig in deeper, it’s all there to be considered in Revelation 21-22.

It is not too surprising that belief in an afterlife exists. The difference found in Christianity is that access comes from a place of sacrifice and selflessness. To find out more, check out these links to find the real answers to the life, death and more.

Where to look for more details: John 3, Romans 3, 8, & 10

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.