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Flatliners is a 1990 film starring Kevin Bacon, Keifer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Oliver Platt and Billy Baldwin in some wacky medschool hijinks, directed by Joel Schumacher.

OK, not so wacky. Actually, I really like the premise of this movie. The characters are a group of med students, at the top of their class. One of them, Nelson (Sutherland) has the bright idea to experiment with life after death by inducing brain death and having the others revive him. As he puts it, "Philosophy failed. Religion failed. Now it's up to the physical sciences."

They all have their own reasons for going along with this, of course. Steckel (Platt) is writing a memoir. Hurley (Baldwin) wants to be rich and famous. Lebraccio (Bacon) is Nelson's friend, but also thinks this is all bullshit and wants to be right about that. And Manis (Roberts) is obsessed with NDE anyway.

Nelson "dies" for a few minutes, and comes back talking about his senses being finely tuned, comforting presence, blah blah. But after Hurley does the same thing, odd things start happening - a pivotal moment from the characters' pasts haunts them. In Nelson's case, said pivotal moment is a 9-year-old kid he accidentally knocked out of a tree and killed when he was a boy, and that kid shows up at random points and beats the shit out of him. In Hurley's case, he sees images of the women he cons into bed and then secretly videotapes (he's engaged, by the way). Labreccio sees a little girl he used to bully at school, while Manis sees her long-dead father.

Steckel never flatlines, and that's actually a complaint I have about this movie. I like Platt's character. He's rational and well-spoken, but he's also a privileged ass. He never really risks anything (other than by participating, which I guess is something), but he talks like he has a stake in all this to match the others. I would have liked to have seen that character with a few skeletons in the closet.

But that's actually a pretty minor point. The movie works fairly well, and I like that it never really explains what's going on. The characters make a lot of assumptions - it's people we've wronged who want revenge (by the way, Manis makes that suggestion to Labreccio, and he responds, "I don't know how it works," and then the next day, she says "You said it yourself, people we've wrong want revenge" - no, honey, you said that), we need to make amends, atone, gain closure, it's God, it's the dead, it's the afterlife, who knows. It does seem to be the case that it's not so much the most pivotal thing that a character does (you can't tell me that bullying a classmate was the worst thing Labreccio ever did) as what that character holds onto the tightest. Likewise, we see it in that character's context. Hurley, based on some of the things that his phantom women say to him (implied to be lines he used on them) has come perilously close to date rape, but when his fiancee finds the tapes and leaves him, he sticks to "those women meant nothing to me" - he hasn't learned a lesson, but that's the end of his character arc. Are these flatlines, then, less about making karmic balance and more about dredging up the worst in a person's own mind, giving it a voice or a pair of fists (or a hockey stick) and letting it go to work? Is it a Jungian shadow?

(Can you tell I've seen this movie a bunch of times and played a lot of Wraith: The Oblivion?)

Anyway, it's good movie in premise and in performance. The script and set design are a little overwrought, but y'know, Schumacher. This is a flick I could see getting remade with some success, though you'd maybe have to compensate for the fact that we totally know more about NDE than this movie wants to admit.

Oh, and another thing: I could see this movie as an RPG. I don't know what game, exactly. Probably something froofy and indie. But four guys, one girl, with all the guys trying to either fuck or protect her? Yeah. That's totally how it would go in a lot of circles.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high, but I admit I'm weird

Next up: Hmm. Well, technically Brave (I got some movies for Xmas), but we've already scheduled Fletch, so it'll be one of those two.


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