For many it’s harps, halos and angel wings, for some celestial spheres and astral planes and for others still, reunions with long-departed family and friends in sunlit Elysian fields.
Whatever your image of what lies beyond there’s a version of it immortalised on celluloid somewhere in Hollywood’s rich canon of life-after-death movies.
From Heaven Can Wait and It’s a Wonderful Life to The Sixth Sense — still the most successful horror movie of all time - Tinseltown has been offering a window into the heavenly realm for decades.
The latest take on the hereafter is Flatliners, a reboot of the 1990 cult classic about student physicians shocking themselves to the other side and back — with a young new cast and a masters degree in medical authenticity.
“Death is the last great unknown, in some ways. It’s like the depths of the sea and the depths of space,” Danish director Niels Arden Oplev said.
“We know more about the Big Bang than we do about the final countdown.”
Movie-goers over the age of 40 will remember the premise of Flatliners: a group of devil-may-care medical students, obsessed by the mystery of what lies beyond, embark on an audacious, dangerous experiment.
Stopping their hearts for short periods, each triggers their own near-death experience as their colleagues monitor their brain activity, to see if they can find any proof of the afterlife.
A cast of established talent and rising stars replace the original ensemble led by Kiefer Sutherland, who gets a sizeable cameo this time around, Kevin Bacon and Julia Roberts.
Led by Oscar-nominee Ellen Page (Juno,Inception), Flatliners 2017 co-stars Diego Luna (Milk, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) alongside Nina Dobrev, James Norton and Kiersey Clemons.
Co-produced by Hollywood veteran Michael Douglas, a producer on Joel Schumacher’s original, the reboot turns up the dial on the psychological scares.
But Oplev, who made 2009’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the most successful Scandinavian film of all time, says the new Flatliners is also a metaphor for American culture’s obsession with getting ahead.
Oplev’s characters discover that having flatlined and faced death, they not only experience what the afterlife might be like but also come back with enhanced abilities.
“The competition to carve out a career and job for yourself for young people today is so much harder and so much more crazy than 27 years ago. And young kids today, they take all kinds of [expletives] to study 12 hours, to stay awake,” Oplev says.
“They all have this desire to take a pill to shortcut to greatness. And then suddenly you realise that was a lot of fun, that was great, and now there’s a bill to pay that I did not foresee coming.”
The bill in Flatliners is steep: as the characters experience death and resurrection, they are forced by horrific supernatural visitations to confront past actions they deeply regret.
Science has advanced dramatically over the last quarter century, and the director worked with medical experts to ground the scary thrills and spills in modern technology.
He brought on medical consultant Lindsay Somers and her network of nurses, radiologists and neurosurgeons to ensure the action was as accurate as possible.
Every diagnosis and prescription had to be authentic, while the actors were shown how to carry equipment correctly and give injections the way a real physician would.
Despite what Hollywood leads us to believe, you can’t actually shock someone who is flatlining back to life without first getting a heartbeat, says Somers.
Even those ubiquitous paddles aren’t used any more, but were kept in the movie because, well, they look more dramatic than glued-on pads.
“Obviously, because we’re making a Hollywood film and not a documentary, we took small liberties with some things. But overall we tried to keep it as accurate as possible,” says Somers.
Another difference between Oplev’s film and Schumacher’s is the intensity of the psychological horror, which has been jacked up for a less easily shockable generation.
“The film language - especially within scary films - has changed a lot in 27 years. The audience expects more than the audience of 1990,” Oplev said.
The 56-year-old filmmaker, who was approached by Sony in 2013 to helm the remake, says he only watched the original twice during his production.
“The old film is a great inspiration, although we are definitely not remaking it as much as we are reinterpreting it,” he said.
Don’t miss it!
Flatliners is playing in UAE cinemas.