What lies beyond the veil of death? Here are ten movies which explore that question in various ways, from comedy to heart-breaking drama:
This 1990 hit movie may have revolved around the sappy, sentimental story of eternal love between characters Sam and Molly (Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore), but the real star was Whoopi Goldberg and her portrayal of Oda Mae Brown, a fake psychic who suddenly finds that she can hear the dead. Here’s the scene in which she first encounters the ghostly Sam:
9. Enter the Void
Sex, drugs and the NDE: there’s nothing sappy and sentimental about this afterlife rendering. In Gaspar Noé’s provocative Enter the Void, small-time drug dealer Oscar is shot by police inducing an ‘astral journey’ around psychedelic Tokyo. Taking inspiration from mushroom trips, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and Raymond Moody’s NDE bestseller Life After Life, Noé hits the viewer with sensory overload in order to portray the altered states of consciousness that Oscar encounters (including a 6 minute DMT trip) during the movie.
8. The Lovely Bones
Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones didn’t fare well with the critics, not least because of what was perceived to be over-the-top CG rendering of the scenes where young Susie Salmon is stuck in the “In-Between”. But considering that NDErs have described visiting paradisiacal gardens during their otherworldly journeys, perhaps Jackson wasn’t too far off the mark.
One of Tim Burton’s first hits back in 1988, Beetlejuice provided a comedic showpiece for the manic talents of Michael Keaton as the title character. In the movie, recently deceased couple Barbara and Adam (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) find that the entry into the afterlife is a bureaucratic nightmare, are assigned a case worker, and find that they have to haunt their earthly house for the next 125 years. The problem lies in getting rid of the new tenants…that’s where Beetlejuice comes in.
This 2002 movie starring Kevin Costner was poorly received by critics, although it’s difficult to see why it got such harsh reviews. When his wife Emily dies, Joe (Costner) keeps getting signs that she somehow lives on, including via a near-death experience shared by a child (an interesting aspect of NDE research covered by Dr Melvin Morse). Though most of those in Joe’s life reject his claims, it seems there are indeed “100 steps on the ladder of consciousness”, and he goes in search of answers to the mystery…with a surprising result.
5. What Dreams May Come
This 1998 film starring Robin Williams is one of the most polarizing movies I’ve come across – people seem to either love it with a passion, or dislike it. Like Jackson’s Lovely Bones, it features stunningly beautiful depictions of the afterlife (receiving an Academy Award for its visual effects), which may explain the love/hate opinions. Or perhaps its just the overwhelming melancholy that pervades much of the movie, given that it tells the story of a woman who loses both her children as well as her true love.
4. Defending Your Life
This Albert Brooks film (he wrote, directed and starred in the movie, along with Meryl Streep) uses the oft-mentioned idea of a ‘judgement’ in the afterlife as the superficial plot for a more insightful exploration of the very Earthly topics of love and fear. During the judgement, Brooks’ character is in the ‘waiting room’ to heaven (or a train back to Earth for reincarnation), which is portrayed as a mundane copy of life. No Academy Awards for visual effects in this one.
Raymond Moody’s seminal 1975 book Life After Life brought the near-death experience into the public consciousness, telling how those who had almost died sometimes experienced what seemed to be a transition to the afterlife. This 1990 movie starring Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts took it one step further, and wondered what might happen if people actively explored the near-death experience through induced death and resuscitation.
2. The Sixth Sense
Though presumably everyone on the planet has seen this one, I’ll still avoid the big spoiler for The Sixth Sense. Suffice to say, there’s not a lot of afterlife visions, but a whole army of earth-bound ghosts that need poor little Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) to help them move on to the Summerlands. Warning: you’ll see dead people. All the time.
1. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
What better afterlife could there be? After all, it’s Christmas every day in Heaven. Plus you get dinner and a show!
What others do you think should be on the list? Post your favourites in the comments section.