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Is that all there is?

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Mark Kermode | 10:39 UK time, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

If you die at the movies where do you go? Robin Williams had a look in What Dreams May Come, David Niven in A Matter of Life and Death, Mimi Rogers and David Duchovny went the distance in The Rapture, and in The Lovely Bones Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson gives us his digital version of the afterlife. But where do you think is the best celluloid resting place?

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  • Comment number 1.

    i think my three favourite depictions of the afterlife are all fairly similar in that they're all zany and brightly coloured. the first two are beetlejuice and the corpse bride, and the third is an old videogame called 'grim fandango', which you can view the trailer here:

  • Comment number 2.

    Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey?

  • Comment number 3.

    Overall its not a brilliant film (and I have the feeling somebody on here will tell me its stolen lots of ideas from predecessors...) but Wristcutters: A Love Story is a quirky representation of the afterlife. From what I remember Tom Waits plays an angel and people who commit suicide go into a life that is almost entirely the same as life, but they can't smile and altogether the reality is slightly morose. More dull colour palette and little features like no flowers or stars. Its a 'limbo' instead of heaven I suppose, but I liked the way it was pulled off.

    Of note: I organised a creative media 'jam' event which ran for a week called Next Level Dundee, and one of the groups involved produced a VERY short film called 'Afterlife: Saint or Sinner'. Basically two representatives from heaven and hell would play a beat 'em up video game to see who could claim the dead person's soul!

  • Comment number 4.

    The afterlife in Beetlejuice was quite fun. Jacob's Ladder was also set in a form of limbo between death and an afterlife if I remember rightly.

    Ultimately though all this is comfort viewing for those that shy away from thinking that death really is the end of our lives, consciousness, personality and memories and the end of us as individuals. Add in a touch of divine reward/punishment and you have candy floss for the masses.

    Strange there isn't a genre about Jihadi martyrs entering paradise and enjoying the pleasures supplied by 72 virgins. (Quite what female martyrs receive is anyone's guess.) Perhaps Tinto Brass could do one in 3D...

  • Comment number 5.

    My first thought was It's a Wonderful Life...but then realised that heaven isn't depicted visually at all (aside from the fact that I'd be more than happy for Bedford Falls to be my heaven).

    BUT I would still argue it's one of the best uses of heaven in a movie, because it isn't presented visually and it has some lightness or humour to it. I just think heaven is a fundamentally uninteresting concept from a dramatic point of view. In much the same way that you can't get an interesting movie from a perfect relationship where nothing goes awry (and that artists invariably record their least interesting albums when they're just married), the only points of interest in depicting heaven are about set or CGI design.

  • Comment number 6.

    @SheffTim...Both "martyr" and "virgin" are gender neutral words, hence martyrs (female or otherwise) get 72 virgins. Of course it's patently obvious this whole thread is predicated on some very significant dramatic licence with regards to reality.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm in full agreement with previous comments about Beetlejuice and the Corpse Bride... if there is anyone that has made the afterlife more vibrant and interesting than the present, it's Mr Tim Burton.
    Also, I've always loved Albert Brook's Defending Your Life, which at worst can be described as slightly over-sentimental by people who don't favour it. I think it's one of the far superior and funnier looks at the after-life that I've seen.

    Daniel Miller: Is this Heaven?
    Bob Diamond: No it isn't Heaven?
    Daniel Miller: Is it Hell?
    Bob Diamond: Nope, it isn't Hell either. Actually, there is no Hell. Although I hear Los Angeles is getting pretty close.

  • Comment number 8.

    the portrayal of the afterlife should always be avoided, it never works

    also, Kermode, you continually criticise Tarantino's films for being too flabby, self indulgent

    Well I strongly disagree, I feel Peter Jackson is far more culpable of this. His ego has gone completely out of control and is in dire need of someone to say "No Peter". Since the huge success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he basically can do whatever he likes, and as result his films have suffered tremendously. The omens were already apparent in the Return of the King, a film that ended about 5 different times. His remake of King Kong contained entire sequences which were completely unnecessary. He has become far too indulgent and The Lovely Bones, with its overabundant use of CGI, continues this trend. He's practically gone all George Lucas.

  • Comment number 9.

    Beetlejuice: One of the most brilliantly imaginative films of the last three decades which seems to have become somewhat forgotten when people talk about Tim Burton's oeuvre. The afterlife sequences are a visual treat and the film gives me this sense of warmth and delight that I presume women get from Sex and the City. If i remember correctly there was quite a lot of hype surrounding it upon release in 1988 and it is certainly more worthy of attention than later Burton mishaps such as Sweeney Todd, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, fact, i'm just going to go out and say that I think Beetlejuice is Tim Burton's best film.

    Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey: much better than the first film and the Heaven/Hell sequences are very funny...particular the lads playing Twister with Bill Sadler's Death.

    Ghost: doesn't exactly "show" a Heaven or Hell as such but the depicting of an unrested good soul stuck between the two worlds and seeing his distraught loved one and trying to communicate with her is a nice idea which was filmed very entertainingly I thought, plus there's the great scene where the demons drag the bad guy down to Hell.

    Night of the Living Dead: hey, it's Post-Life for the majority of the characters- the shuffling undead- isn't it!

  • Comment number 10.

    Peter Jackson has been in the territory before - The Frighteners back in the late nineties starring Michael J Fox. Seem to remember that being vaguely disappointing too.

    Like other people have said on this page, it's all a bit folk-talesy, mythological, religion based ideas. Ripe for visual effects, though! Yet it somehow always seems more palatable if it's got Mount Olympus and a few monsters in it.

    I think Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy deserves the Terry Gilliam treatment. Also, maybe someone could turn 2000AD's Strontium Dog into a movie. He (Johnny Alpha) visited a few 'afterlifes' in his time - though they were really alternative dimensions....

  • Comment number 11.

    Can't believe no ones mentioned Gladiator yet. And I had another in mind, but I'll come back to that when I have more time.

  • Comment number 12.

    Actually I think it's important to consider what afterlife you're dealing with

    there are inherent problems with portraying Heaven or Purgatory, basically it's particulary difficult to create interesting drama in such settings

    take for example Dante's Commedia, his Purgatory and Paradiso sections are pratically snorefests when compared to the fabulous drama of Dante's Inferno

  • Comment number 13.

    I much prefer cinematic depictions of the "other place". Just like having the best tunes, the Devil also has the best afterlife sequences. Particular favourites are Dark Angel the Ascent and Fulci's The Beyond. I also love the bleakness of hell as it appears at the end of The Devil in Miss Jones.

  • Comment number 14.

    John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. Very brief yet very scary depiction of hell being an unimaginably black, empty void.

  • Comment number 15.

    Although not strictly a film (although they have made a TV movie out of it in the US starring Jon Voight, but I have not seen it) the greatest depiction of the afterlife I have ever encountered is probably a book called 'The 5 People You Meet in Heaven' by Mitch Albom. Essentially it is the tale of an old man who dies in an accident and has to meet with 5 people who explain both their impact on his life and the associated life lesson that they have to teach him. Not easy to put into words here, I recommend you read it (or watch the TV adaptaion, but I have my doubts that it will have the same effect.)

    Maybe film is just not the right medium for showing the afterlife - after all if such a thing exists then surely above all things it is entirely unique to each and every individual.

  • Comment number 16.

    Sure Gladiator has a good go at the after life and it does work for me.

    Perhaps Lovely Bones should have gone for that kind of simplicity rather than making it look like something off the the PS3 game Little Big Planet?

    Watership Down's idea of dying and then being taken away by The Black Rabbit was quite haunting but indeed visually amazing!

    But we do need to make a distinction between the "After Life/Heaven" and "Purgatory" - personally I don't think anybody has successfully shown Heaven but the "In-between" as Peter Jackson tries to make clear in his trailer is certainly something that filmmakers have a better shot at!

  • Comment number 17.

    Herk Harvey's 1962 classic 'Carnival of Souls' is a good one. It doesn't exactly depict heaven in the kind of 'obvious' sense; no big garish, epic imagery, but instead set in a very bleak, dark Salt Lake City. It's a dreamy and surreal imagining of the afterlife- the scene in the run-down pavillion is an absolute transcendent gem- and even though the film's now 48 years old, it's still an extremely effective, and in my opinion, very much valid contribution to the horror genre.

  • Comment number 18.

    Oh! And Jacob's Ladder! Nightmarish vision of hell, and what makes it so effective is that it's set in New York City. I love that film.

  • Comment number 19.

    It's gotta be Christmas in Heaven from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.

  • Comment number 20.

    #6. "Each time we sleep with a houri we find her virgin. Besides, the p*nis of the Elected never softens. The e*ection is eternal; the sensation that you feel each time you make love is utterly delicious and out of this world and were you to experience it in this world you would faint. Each chosen one will marry seventy houris, besides the women he married on earth, and all will have appetising v@ginas."
    Al-Suyuti (died 1505 ), Koranic commentator.

    Ninth-century scholar Al-Tabarani argued that women will be reunited with their husbands in the next world, and those who had multiple husbands can pick the best one to be their eternal spouse.

    Other commentators added that a woman who never married can marry any man she wants in paradise. Heaven indeed in cultures where arranged marriages for a dowry can result in teenage girls wedded to old men!

    Some modern scholars argue that in heaven, husbands never grow bored of their wives, even with so many huris around. (Something some footballers wives must ardently wish for also.)

    Afterlife is indeed merely an exercise in human imagination.

  • Comment number 21.

    The memorable afterlife scenes I can remember seeing are in Doug Trumbull's flawed 1983 SF classic Brainstorm which sees Christopher Walken as a scientist who develops a technology that records people's thought patterns allowing their experiences to be relived vicariously (think proto Strange Days). When his co-researcher (Natalie Wood), suffers a fatal heart attack while her sensorium is being recorded, Walken is left with a tape that allows him to experience the transition from life to death and the afterlife. Cue a series of breathtaking scenes that have Doug Trumbull doing what he does best - demonstrating that optical effects when done properly will always be more mesmeric, beautiful and more emotional than CGI.

  • Comment number 22.

    Defending Your Life with Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks shows the afterlife, or is it the between life? very well.

  • Comment number 23.

    Off the top of my head, I can think of two that haven't been mentioned so far and are well worth a look (for the ideas explored, not for any special effects) - the Japanese film After Life (Wandâfuru raifu) & The Bothersome Man, a Norwegian movie.

  • Comment number 24.


    Thank you, Carnival of Souls is one of the greatest films ever made, in my own top twenty at least, and it is indeed a creepy, surreal and altogether unsettling experience. There is many fantastic scenes in the film, from Mary (Candace Hilligoss) visiting the Salt Air Pavillion by herself and we see "The Ghoul" sitting in a lonely tower by himself looking down at Mary leaving the Pavillion. Or the scene where Mary plays the organ and the priest comments "truly, we have found an organist who can stir the soul", that is exactly how one feels when watching that scene. And the Salt Air Pavillion itself, much like The Overlook Hotel in The Shining, is as much a character as the people.

    This film is in the Public Domain people and easily watched on Youtube or Google Video...Film School 101: watch Carnival of Souls!

  • Comment number 25.

    My first thought was Beetlejuice, but I must agree about Corpse Bride as well, if only because it's that huge contrast between the miserable grey everyday world and then suddenly this riot of colour and music. I love that juxtaposition. Same with Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey.

    On the other hand, Gladiator's afterlife is gorgeously simple.

  • Comment number 26.

    Maybe it doesn't count as an afterlife sequence, but I loved the 'princess returns home' sequence from Pan's Labyrinth. Makes me cry every time I see it.

    Otherwise I have to go with Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. Specifically I'd love to play a game of battleships against William Sadler for my immortal soul.

  • Comment number 27.

    maybe not great examples and not entirely sure if these fit the bill but they come to mind:

    Constantine (hell)
    Flatliners (not quite sure what that depicted, although it was an experience "after life".)

  • Comment number 28.

    hm....not necessarily good sequence but noone seems to have mentioned it.
    BRUCE ALMIGHTY,jim carrey has a brief taste of the afterlife.

    Also: EVERYBODY'S FINE,the table scene where De niro sits and talks with his young kings is a glimpse of the afterlife,not heaven,not hell,but from what i understood just a place where truth must be told..a beautiful scene by the way in a good movie badly advertised by the awful poster!

    I'll come back if anything comes to mind.

  • Comment number 29.

    Why continue this discussion when Mark has already mentioned the greatest depiction of the afterlife ever, in the greatest film ever made - The Archer's A Matter of Life and Death.

    Referenced by everyone from Bill & Ted to Pulp, via The Simpsons, it is the most fantastic, wonderful peek at the world following this one we have ever seen. Not only that, it contains the finest comment about the possibility of an after life ever (I'll paraphrase slightly):

    Frank - Do you believe in life after death?
    June: I don't know, I've never really thought about it. Do you?
    Frank: I don't know, I've thought about it too much.

    A superb script, brilliantly acted by a wonderful ensemble cast, with jaw-dropping set design, and peerless cinematography by the late, great Jack Cardiff, and even a cameo by Lord Dickie.

    Cinema heaven. Close the thread.

    Steve W

  • Comment number 30.

    A Life Less Ordinary's take on heaven as a busy US cop station isn't really too appealing, although having Holly Hunter there as an angel does make it a more tempting proposition.....

  • Comment number 31.

    One could also say Gaspar Noé's ENTER THE VOID depicts the afterlife... it just happens to be the same place we are in. The main character Oscar is unable to move on after he's been shot to death early in the film and we are forced to watch, (in first person!) how others mourn him while his soul (aka the camera) floats around. For two hours.

    If there is an afterlife, I hope this isn't it.

  • Comment number 32.

    The already mentioned depictions in Jacob's Ladder, Flatliners, Prince of Darkness are some of my personal favourites when trying to put "the other place" on screen. One of the most evokotive for me, however, was in Paperhouse - not really the afterlife, although it could well be interpreted as that particularly towards the end of the film, but it managed to be both child-like, simple, somehow homely, yet at the same time, surreal and threatening, with a very strange set that was very unsettling. One of my favourite films, very underrated in my opinion.

  • Comment number 33.

    It's a Wonderful Life forces you to impose your own imagination on what Heaven looks like by showing us nothing more than three twinkling lights standing in for angels. Capra solved the problem by showing us almost nothing.

  • Comment number 34.

    I'd vote for South Park Bigger, Longer and Uncut, which depicts both heaven and hell.

    Heaven, filled with buxom angels looked pretty fun, and hell was run by a sensitive Satan who was being pushed around by his lover, Saddam Hussein. While the latter would have been unpleasant to live in, at least you'd still get some laughs.

  • Comment number 35.

    Got to go for the final scene from the good Doc's favourite - Titanic.

    Of all the cringe-worthy elements in that film, closing the picture with a vision of the afterlife which involves reassembling all the deceased from the disaster back at the site of their horrible deaths just to watch Leo give Kate a snog, seemed particularly crasss.

    What would happen if a director concluded a 9/11 movie with a depiction of heaven where the living and the dead are reunited in the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center? Pretty sure that wouldn't go down too well...

  • Comment number 36.

    I always thought Burton's "Beetlejuice" was a brilliantly cynical depiction of what is to come; portrayed with a quite visceral expressionistic visual flair.

    But in my mind, nothing can master "Der Himmel über Berlin" in its frankness and simplicity.
    Granted, it doesn't portray the afterlife per se. But the residing gist of Wenders construction remains the most spiritually uplifting experience I've ever extracted from a film.

  • Comment number 37.

    Wristcutters: A Love Story is possibly my favourite film depiction of the afterlife, the place where Suicides go is like where they came from but only slightly worst...

  • Comment number 38.

    This rant is rather biased. The reason being is that the whole idea of heaven and hell is biased. It serves one specific story and idea of the after life.

    The whole reason why heaven and hell is always depicted so blandly is because the idea itself is a bland idea. If we're good, we go to some good place. If we're bad, we go to some bad place. That is terrible storytelling. It's one dimensional and childish.

    Also, the only people we get to see to go to heaven are wholely good people. The only ones in hell are wholely bad. Again, this is bland storytelling. No one in real life is so one sided.

  • Comment number 39.

    I too love 'The Rapture'. I remember dragging my husband to see it in our local arthouse cinema which had a tiny screen and school chairs to sit on. We were virtually alone and I have felt that way ever since with this movie. Nobody else has ever heard of it, so thanks Mark for bringing it to public attention. I remember coming out of the screening emotionally exhausted. It really was four horseman, end of days stuff. Mimi Rogers finest performance (although she is pretty good in Someone to watch over me) should have won the Oscar for it.
    Lovely Bones has some nice moments in it but ultimately I think the novel is un-filmable. Depicting scenes of the afterlife without falling into cheesy images of sunsets and fields of golden grass is extremely difficult. Jackson danced over the top of the plot and a lot was left out, it is quite a complex book. Having said that it is ultimately, an impossible task, to create a visual image of something that nobody has ever seen. There is nothing to base your ideas on and so everyone immediately falls into the idyllic landscape idea. Jackson did his best with a difficult script but ultimately failed to convince me. I was so looking forward to it too!

  • Comment number 40.

    Got to agreed with Powell and Pressburger's vision, haven't seen anything else that stands out so well although Bill and Ted's was fun.

    Waiting for Preacher which should have an interesting idea if it is taken right out of the graphic novel, especially with Sam Mendes directing, although it will probably get stuck in development hell.

  • Comment number 41.

    Y'know the people with the best kingdom to come? Comedians.

    They go to the Laughterlife.

  • Comment number 42.

    Yep, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey is the best. Heaven where you can play charades with Einstein & Station, Hell where you totally get lied to by your album covers.

  • Comment number 43.

    Saw 'The Lovely Bones' the other day -what dreck. The only way to describe it's mawkish supine morality is Panglossian - don't complain of the ghastly things that happen to you, for it's all for best...

    Am hoping for a good deal more from 'The Rapture'.

  • Comment number 44.

    The "Listen to Jesus, Jimmy" sequence from Reefer Madness - The Musical! has to be the second best after Powell and Pressburger.

  • Comment number 45.

    Well, being an atheist I don't have any hopes about afterlife (I'm not no my deathbed yet, though), but some of my favorite films have some hints of it. Firstly I have to mention David Lynch's Black Lodge from Twin Peaks. Well, that same place rears up its head from Eraserhead to INLAND EMPIRE but it was most clearly shown in TP. That place is not only an afterlife but also a place where we can go when we dream. In Lynch's bizarro world it makes perfect sense as he knows that we live inside a dream. So when we are actually dreaming we are somehow closer to the "awakening". Anyway that theater that waits us seems like curious place, even though scary and sad. It seems there is really no solace anywhere. Or maybe it is just a secret. Silencio!

    I don't trust the Lady in the Radiator.

    My favourite heaven comes from the one and only Andrei Tarkovsky. Be it in a form of neutrino based looped life that is born from memories in the Solaris ocean or photographic like icon that we see in the end of Nostalghia. Afterlife is only a gallery of your life's most precious moments. No matter if it is only illusion, we still can feel that we really are persons, individuals who lived and even mattered. We don't need any new adventures. All films end at some point.

  • Comment number 46.

    well david lynch dreamworld is one of my favourite things to see on screen anyway, whether it's watching an invisible pre-recorded jazz band or watching a woman get raped and trampled by an elephant, it's always pretty interesting.

  • Comment number 47.

    A successful, and very understated, depiction has to be the Japanese After Life (Wandafuru Raifu), where the recently deceased are only allowed one memory, which is then turned into a movie to be played for eternity.

  • Comment number 48.

    As per usual, I completely agree with rolextharsus. Bill and Ted's afterlife is brilliant. Alternatively, in Neil Gaimans series 'The Sandman' (Set in the same reality as 'Death: The High Cost of Living' which is currently seeing a film adaptation) Hell is a reality that is self imposed on it's victims based entirely on what they truly believe they deserve, as is the length and nature of their punishment. An interesting concept that may well see it's way to the big screen in the not too distant future.

    Or what about 'Jacobs Ladder'? SPOILER ALERT: One interpretation is that the whole film is set in the afterlife.

  • Comment number 49.

    The afterlife in Soderbergh's Solaris is decent. One of my favourite films actually. (spoilers ahead) It does it pretty well at the end of the film even though they don't say explicitly that clooney's character is dead.

    The afterlife is suggested through the structure of the film. Being dead in Solaris is just like living on earth depicted in clooney's previous flashbacks except it is suggested that he is dead when his last flashbacks changes and clooney's character seems to be living in his memory of planet earth...along with his dead wife. The film is pretty trippy anyway...

  • Comment number 50.

    I'm annoyed it's been mentioned so heavily so far but A Matter of Life and Death is comfortably the best I've seen. Visually satisfying for its time and interestingly explored throughout the film, bloody genius.

  • Comment number 51.

    A Matter of Life and Death, hands down (my fav Powell/Pressburger), only flaw -- lack of stanna stairlifts.

    Has anyone mentioned Time Bandits, not so much an afterlife picture but with the strangely officious God as portrayed by Ralph Richardson.

    Others deserving a mention -- Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) Claude Rains before James Mason got the remake
    The Time of Their Lives (1946)-- an oddly touching item from the Abbott & Costello canon
    A Guy Named Joe (1943)-- Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne, Spielberg remade it as Always with Audrey Hepburn as a luminous Angel.
    Bedazzled (1967) -- Can't quite remember if there's an actual visit to heaven, but has Peter Cook as the best devil, and Racquel Welch as Lust. This does make me want to throw Dogma onto the list, but I have mixed feelings about that one.
    All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)-- fun if middling Don Bluth, and for some unexplained reason all the angels are whippets.

    Nods to those who mentioned Defending Your Life, from the sadly underappreciated Albert Brooks and
    The Bothersome Man which never explicitly states that it's an afterlife (although, like Groundhog Day, suicide doesn't work as an escape), but takes place in a Kafkaesque place whose inhabitants are forced to be happy in a banal unsatisfying way, a poetic, satirical and creepy vision of hell.

  • Comment number 52.

    ... Seventh Seal or if you prefer the jollier Woody Allen take on it from Love and Death (go dancing over the hill with Death to the rousing sound of a Prokofiev troika).

  • Comment number 53.

    'Jacobs Ladder'

  • Comment number 54.

    Mark, you're doing it again. Reply to our replies, why don't you.

  • Comment number 55.

    'Corpse Bride' is a fun look at the afterlife and a similar representation in the computer game 'Grim Fandango' is fabulous,both based on Mexican folk law, don't think I'd mind staying in limbo if it was as brightly coloured as that...No one else think 'Hellraiser' deserves a mention? Dipiction not as good as the book or the graphic novels but it gets my vote none the less...

  • Comment number 56.

    In both the TV show and the film, the Red Room in Twin Peaks. A strange, warped place where only David Lynch could come up with an afterlife/heaven or hell inhaibted by a backward talking Jay Anderson. Strange stuff indeed

  • Comment number 57.

    I've seen The Rapture. It made me giggle. The Four Horsemen of the I saw The Rapture and it made me giggle. Apocalypse on a budget. This is a tough assignment. I think the presumed afterlife of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise, where the principal "characters" are simply wandering down an existential highway, or road, if I remember correctly, was nifty. How about the room at the end of Fire Walk With Me, where Laura Palmer is both laughing and crying, probably one of the goofier afterworlds, but you know, "In heaven everything is fine." I adored the Jazz Heaven of the film within the film of Woody Allen's much underrated 8 1/2esque Stardust Memories. Actually, I think these afterworld ideas are probably better suited for comedies than serious films because there's something innately kitschy about the idea of continuing after expiring; inevitably such metaworlds become gunked up with notions belonging to the workaday experience. In that spirit, the cartoony bureaucratic nightmare of Beetlejuice is probably one of the most satisfying. My own personal favorite afterworld, though, is in books. Mark Twain's marvelously funny and imaginative tale, "Captain Stormfield's Trip to Heaven".

  • Comment number 58.

    Hey Dr. Mark when will you review "Agora" (2009)?

  • Comment number 59.

    I love a 'Matter of life and Death' it's one of my top 5 all time favourite films. I love that depiction of the trial in heaven and all the different military people split up into their groups. It’s obviously a product of it’s time but I love it.
    I like the idea of heaven in ‘Ziegfeld Follies’ where Florenz Ziegfeld looks down from heaven and creates a musical review. It’s awesome!

  • Comment number 60.

    Bill and Ted 2- slightly ridicolous but intresting and funny all the same.

  • Comment number 61.

    Lots of people have mentioned the fantastic 'Jacob's Ladder', but it's not set in the 'afterlife' as such. It's about somebody hanging on to life, it is not until the very end that he takes his son's hand and moves on.

  • Comment number 62.

    @ katy

    one of my favourite things about the world of grim fandango is that it's more or less the same as the real world, except brightly coloured, there's big monsters wandering around doing manual labour, and everyone is a skeleton. oh, and guns make you sprout flowers.

  • Comment number 63.

    I am surprised no one has mentioned Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders, although it's not directly about the afterlife as such, the two angels we see in monochrome for the first hour of the film are in som sort of 'different' metaphysical reality so it is defintely dealing with portraying a sort of heaven space. It is so amazing the way the angels life is constructed in a dialectical manner before Bruno Ganz's character later is thrust into a colourful reality (thanks to Columbo's advice) where he experiences the dirty awesomeness of a Nick Cave gig.

  • Comment number 64.

    Field of Dreams

    "Is this Heaven?"
    "No, it's Iowa."

    But the cornfield was Heaven, or a portal to. And if a baseball diamond is accessible in the afterlife, I cannot wait.

  • Comment number 65.

    I don't think anyone's mentioned the Sixth sense. Although it isn't entirely about afterlife the people that Coel helps are very definitely dead. Afterlife, the TV series with Andrew Lincoln and Lesley Sharp is a bit like this too.
    I guess there aren't many movies or tv shows that have actually depicted where we finally end up after death. Most have tortured souls that are hanging on to reality rather than moving on, their lives are hanging in the balance. It's always that purgatory in-between bit.

  • Comment number 66.

    What I love about these threads is people recommend films I've not come across before, and make me want to see them. e.g. Wristcutters: A Love Story.

    Hat-tips to Ian Schultz (37) and tommus-jay (1). Just watched the trailers on YouTube for Wristcutters and Grim Fandango and both look worth catching. Grim Fandango looks in the Beetlejuice vein too.

    Although not about an afterlife the alternative reality Coraline finds herself trapped in is similarly nightmarish; that film will give some young kids nightmares.

    The problem with the idea of a heaven is that every person will have different preference as to what their own heaven would be like. One size fits all wouldn't work, and how long before the politics of 'why don't we change this' rears its head? Or does everyone get a frontal lobotomy on entry so there are no arguments and everyone is 'c o n t e n t'?
    Now there's an idea for a movie.

    One idea that's under-explored in fiction is immortality.
    Taking away Faustian deals, fights with the Kurgan and associations with vampires what would it be like to just stop aging and live forever; or much, much, much longer than everyone else?
    How would you stop yourself standing out, explain your career history, your previous love life? After a few centuries would you become utterly bored with everything?

  • Comment number 67.

    i kinda like the idea of the afterlife being different to each individual. in the book, 'the end of mr y' by scarlett thomas, it doesn't feature the afterlife but the characters can enter the collective consciousness of everyone as a kind of seperate world, but if i remember correctly, while the basic structure is the same from person to person, the aesthetic of the world and everything in it varies.

  • Comment number 68.

    Yes, A Matter Of Life And Death and Bedazzled both present great - and awfully British - depictions of heaven, filled with stately gardens, bureaucratic officials and democratic chambers!

    I'd have to say the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me counts as an afterlife, certainly some kind of purgatory. It's one of the most disturbingly unreal environments ever captured on film!

    Others great examples that spring to mind: the brilliantly non-CGI Fortress Of Ultimate Darkness from Time Bandits and - one of the very best - the room at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  • Comment number 69.

    Glad to see some comments for the Japanese film 'After Life (Wandarafu Raifu)'- a fantastic and subtle piece of film-making that, as someone mentioned before, takes an understated and unpretentious look at it's subject matter, and is all the more affecting for it ..

    (Having seen the Lovely Bones it seemed to me that it could have benefitted from some of this restraint) ...

    Interested to check out 'A Matter Of Life And Death' and 'The Bothersome Man' ...

  • Comment number 70.

    i haven't seen after life, but why is the japanese translation wonderful life? i mean, i'm no expert on japanese, but it certainly seems like the film should have been called wonderful life, given the japanese title.

  • Comment number 71.

    I'd go for Spielberg's Always. I think it's a hugely flawed piece, yet contains some great humour, courtesy of the brilliant Ricky Dreyfuss. Considering the subject matter, it was not as saccharine as I thought it was going to be. It also seems to be a forerunner to Ghost.

    In addition, I would flag the 1978 Heaven Can Wait. Sadly, another flipping remake (Always being one of Victor Fleming's A Guy Named Joe 1944) but - as with Always - it has some terrific humour, and I'm being biast because I'm a huge fan of Julie Christie and Warren Beatty.

    By the way Doc, loved the book! Dare I mention...Russia...a Lada... and...'Nyet'?!!!

  • Comment number 72.

    Wristcutters is a good shout.

    My favourite depiction of the afterlife, however, is not from a movie but from a novel, namely A History of the World in 10.5 Chapters by Julian Barnes.

    In the book, everyone goes to Heaven (even Hitler, who is something of a tourist attraction) and you can do whatever you want. Anything.

    The point being that, when you are allowed to do everything you ever wanted for eternity, you get really bored.

  • Comment number 73.

    The denouement to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, in which Laura finds herself within the confines of the Red Room - with an angel ahead, remains particularly affecting. Amid all the flaming imagery,the chaos, Lynch attempts to find a unity of sorts: and and as such this finale, aside from being an excellent example of a cinematic afterlife, is the quintessential Lynch scene.

    Made all the more poignant by the very real incest that came before. Although I cannot help but feel it trivialises the scene without having watched what comes before.

  • Comment number 74.

  • Comment number 75.

    When it comes to cinematic depictions of the afterlife, it doesn't get any better than Monty Python's Meaning of Life. It may looks like a bit of a drag, but it's Christmas. Every day!

  • Comment number 76.

    What about Breaking the Waves? I know you hate the film -- as do I -- but the final shot does provide a fascinatingly minimalist depiction of Heaven. I always thought it was beautiful; shame about the film.

  • Comment number 77.

    A Matter of life and death is one of my favorite films.
    *** spoiler (but it's 60 yars old!!) ***.

    But is it really heaven? Many people seem to think that Powell and Pressburger left it open as to whether the events really occured or were just Niven's hallucinations. Even P&P themselves were apparently quoted as saying it is unresolved. That seems a bit like Gabriel Byrne thinking he was Keyse Soze in The Usual Suspects. I got out my DVD copy to remind myself of the facts.

    Apart from meeting a naked young goatherd shortly after waking up after bailing out from his aircraft without a parachute, all the other 'visions' that Niven has occur when time is frozen. Perhaps there really were naked goatherds in wartime Kent. That bit was cut from the American version, not because it didn't make sense but because it was considered indecent. Another possible hallucination is the eight note musical motif which is used as background for the stairway scenes because it also occurs when the goatherd plays the flute and is played on the piano during an amateur theatrical production rehearsal that Niven witnesses. I think that is quite important because that could mean that some of the more normal experiences that Niven had were also visions or hallucinations for example the whereabouts of a book that I will mention later.

    During his trial the court convenes to a site overlooking the operating theatre where Niven is undergoing life-saving brain surgery. At this point the judge un-suspends the suspended animation so that the operation can proceed while the trial is proceeding. This really should have been the case all along, shouldn't it, because how can the trial be proceeding if the operation isn't? However, it gives the chance to call Niven's squeeze (Kim Hunter) as a witness because Marius Goring has put her into a sleep. So that sleep has to be allowed to proceed in real time so that girlie can enter the trial.

    The trial is won (of course) as a result of Hunter's testimony that she would be prepared to take Niven's place. Hunter and Niven are given a life sentence together on earth. The surgeon whips off his mask to reveal that he is none other than the judge. Another nod to the Wizard of OZ but wait a minute, how can he be the surgeon and the celestial judge at the same time? Well not if the events really occurred. So this must be a dream but Niven has never seen the surgeon before (we see the point where Nivens eyes close in the hospital from inside his own head). An oversight, perhaps?

    The only evidence that any of the experiences during the stopped time sequences actually took place was the absence of a chess book that Marius Goring takes without permission during one of his visits. At the end of the trial scene before Niven wakes up, Goring throws back the book to Niven before disappearing back up the staircase. When Niven is recuperating, Kim Hunter is by Niven's bedside and while he is sleeping she finds the book in Niven's jacket pocket. The absence of the book is the only evidence that any of Niven's experiences might have been real. As far as I am concerned, this is the point that P&P are telling us, hey, this really happened. But if it really happened, Hunter would have known it had happened because she was part of the trial so she would not need to have found the book or react to its discovery in the way that she did. Perhaps Niven was mistaken about the book going missing but this would be against his character of being somebody very smart when he was not having the visions who would not make that kind of mistake (It was a big book and you would know it was in your pocket!). The whole book thing would have to be a red herring but nobody ever sniffs or scratches their bum in a film without it being significant. Remember, if it really happened the judge and surgeon could not be the same person. If it was a dream, the book could not have disappeared. Also, how are we viewing those sequences that take place in 'heaven' where Niven is not present or aware they are taking place if this is a dream?

    Still a great film though.

  • Comment number 78.

    Best journey 'beyond'? It's gotta be Brainstorm. Really spooky and atmospheric, beautifully realised by Douglas Trumbull and Christopher Walken's 'Look to the stars!' line gets me everytime.

    Otherwise, Dave Bowman's trip through Stargate, although not technically an 'afterlife' scenario, does involve a spirit-like journey – a mind-altering one for both him and us.

  • Comment number 79.

    1. 2010 is it the afterlife.
    2. Kirk in the flux.
    3. Dogma

  • Comment number 80.

    Not the greatest film in the world by any stretch, but i always enjoyed the idea of the afterlife given in 'Defending your life'. Jacob's ladder also done it for me in those hospital/hell sequences.

  • Comment number 81.

    Slightly off-topic Mark, but relevant to The Lovely Bones...

    What do you think of all the correspondence - including articles in your hallowed Time Out - that Peter Jackson has lost his way as a filmmaker?

    Some are accusing him of going the same way as John Boorman or Michael Cimino, i.e. everyone starts telling him he's great and throwing money at whatever project he wants to do, and so he loses the sense of discipline he had in his early days.

    Personally I'm not convinced that's true. Although I haven't seen The Lovely Bones yet. There are times in his recent films where he has come unstuck or been over-indulgent - the ending of Return of the King, and a lot of King Kong - but he is still amazingly talented and can do great work. Surely if he'd completely lost the plot things he was producing like District 9 would be terrible, but they're not.

    What do you think of The Lovely Bones, Jackson and the accusations of him losing his way?

    P.S. I agree that the Cimino comparison is not fair - at least Jackson was/ is talented

  • Comment number 82.

    Thank you Mark for mentioning "The Rapture", which as someone else has pointed out, noone seems ever to have heard of. I saw it while dubbing a soundtrack (effects? It was a long time ago) onto a copy of the film at a London post-production facility, but I only did 4 (or 5?) reels. The last one was done by someone else the next day, so I've never seen the end of the film. But it was intriguing and disturbing, partly because it was about religious belief - faith, which is not often treated "from the inside" so to speak. Anyway, since then I've always kept a keen eye out for Tolkin's work. "Deep Cover" was another disturbing fable, this time about identity, if memory serves.

    As for the Afterlife, noone seems to have mentioned that inevitably certain boy wizard is due to revisit Kings Cross at some stage in the next year or two... How will that compare?

  • Comment number 83.

    surely Jean Cocteau's 'Orphée' must stand out, the set constructed is beautiful, and is only in enhanced by the brilliant and superbly imaginative camera tricks used to simulate an other-worldly experience.

  • Comment number 84.

    As well as the Japanese "After Life" by Hirokazu Koreeda mentioned earlier I would add "Heaven's Bookstore" directed by Tetsuo Shinohara and "Sky High" by Ryuhei Kitamura as more examples of Eastern Heaven.

  • Comment number 85.

    Can someone explain how Keanu Reeves doesn't burst into flame in "Constantine" when he visits hell? Him being made of wood and all..

  • Comment number 86.

    I actually liked What Dreams May Comes' vision of the afterlife. It was beautiful!

  • Comment number 87.

    Alan Rudolph's ambitious (though he doesn't quite pull it off) MADE IN HEAVEN is worth checking out for an interesting view of heaven.

  • Comment number 88.

    Wristcutters...without a doubt. What could be better than another life slightly worse than the one we leave behind? Is Tom Waits the only actor to have played the devil and an angel?

  • Comment number 89.

    I second, third, fourth and fifth the suggestion of "Wristcutters: A Love Story". A kooky wee indie road movie - not a world changer but funny and touching nonetheless.

    As for "What Dreams May Come", lets just say that its nice idea for a 30 minute short but utter torture as a feature. 2 hours of Robin Williams constantly on the verge of joyful tears anyone? (shudder).

  • Comment number 90.

    The first film I thought of when watching Mark's video was Made in Heaven from 1987. It starred Timothy Hutton and Kelly McGillis. Debra Winger was also in it, and she played a bloke called Emmett! No idea why though. I remember watching it years ago and it really made an impression on me at the time. It's about a couple who meet and fall in love in Heaven, then get re-born on Earth and have 30 years to find each other again. Haven't seen it for years so there is a good chance it may have aged badly!

    Other than that, well I would certainly agree with those that have mentioned Beetlejuice. And A Matter of Life and Death would certianly be on my list. I don't know whether it counts but I would also love to mention another old favourite of mine, Topper. Cary Grant and Constance Bennett star as funny ghosts haunting their friend Topper played by Roland Young. I loved this film as kid, but then again I think I must have been a pretty weird kid!

  • Comment number 91.

    I think that why movie depictions of 'the afterlife' don't work is twofold. Firstly it's so personal; if you have a conception of an afterlife then a film's images won't match up to it. And secondly, it's just that: moving images which are familiar to us. If you think of a 'higher sphere' as something far removed from humanity, the idea that an afterlife would be comprehendible or expressible in earthly images is ridiculous. That's why blasts of alien-seeming sound or colour often seem to come closer.

    As for The Lovely Bones, though, the reason it doesn't work is because it's a naff, saccharine story that devalues the seriousness of death and murder. That all comes from the book, which for some reason never gets mentioned negatively in reviews of the film.

  • Comment number 92.

    Dr K,
    One interesting portrayal of the afterlife recently, came from one of your own british indie heroes, Philip Ridley. I saw his new film 'Heartless' at the Glasgow Film Festival and he appeared to be adopting some seemingly familiar characters like the devil and Faust and intigrating them into a kind of mystical Indian approach to the question of the afterlife and morality, influenced by Buddhist and Hindu ideas.

    One of the main characters is a young English-Indian girl who has taken on the appearance of the victim/witness of a street crime shown on a BBC news bulletin early on in the picture - somewhat similar to the use of a yound girl in The Lovely Bones. Ridley puts a more sinister spin on the figure of the innocent victim - a demon type character, a little goddess dressed in a golden sari and a consort of the more obvious 'devil' character (Papa B), takes on this 'innocent' appearance in order to tempt the main Faustian protagonist into a brutal act of violence that she convinces him will prevent the future abuse of her and his loved ones, by quenching Papa B's thirst for chaos and as payment for the faustian pact. Evil is Yin and Yang here - the cruely working hand in hand with the alluring childish temptations.

    The afterlife in this story takes on the form of a sort of reoccuring false memory, the main character reflecting on the idealised relationship he had with his long deceased father as a boy. He recalls sitting under a large tree (the tree of life?) as his father takes a photo, a photo that now hangs in his living room. He obsesses over photography as a way of connecting with this 'perfect' memory of his father, a keen amateur photographer himself, and so photography becomes his way of connecting with 'beauty' - this then becomes his downfall as well - he is taken in by beautiful appearance. The memory changes through the story, but rather than getting more 'real', it gets more surreal until he finally has a conversation with his father that resolves the conflict of desires within himself - this then leads to an image of his soul rising up between the branches of the tree into the stars above - he makes the right decision in his moral dilemma and sacrifices his life.

    In this approach, the afterlife is not a destination but rather a state, part of which we carry with us all the way through our life but one which we only fully realise at the moment of death when the conflict within us is resolved and our identity becomes absorbed into some sort of wider 'conciousness', represented by the stars/universe.

    There was a similar symbolic/subtle approach in my favourite afterlife movie 'The Fountain' by Darren Aronofsky.

    I'de say Beetlejuice was more about purgatory and it's influence on the living (Burton's Halloween type fantasy) than afterlife/heaven/hell generally, but it was also very cool - probably my favourite movie as a kid.

  • Comment number 93.

    At the end of season 5 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which I am sure you have not watched yet, Larry David dies after complications from donating a kidney to Richard Lewis, who recovers and then enjoys a care free existence on some Caribbean beach drinking cocktails and frolicking in the surf with young bimbos.

    Larry goes up to heaven which is devoid of colour and has low swirling white cloud (the old dry ice trick). He is a younger version of himself with hair. He is met by two "guides" (Dustin Hoffman and Sacha Baron Cohen) who start to show him the ropes. He has an encounter with his Mother (Bea Arthur) who berates him for "being a shmuck" for giving his kidney to Richard Lewis. But then he starts to get comfortable with the idea of heaven when he discovers he can eat and drink and do anything as much as he likes. He meets Ben Hogan who promises to give him golf lessons and he also finds out that Marilyn Monroe is a great fan of Seinfeld and can't wait to meet him. He manages to annoy his guides sufficiently that they get into a Larry David type trivial argument with him until finally they decide that he is "not ready" for heaven and decide to send him back to his body in the hospital. This is much to the surprise and somewhat irritation of his wife, friends, father, doctor and rabbi who were gathered at his bedside and had begun to argue as a result of various promises that Larry had dragged out of them just before he died.

    If I was met on arrival in heaven by Sacha Baron Cohen, I think I might want to go back to my body.

  • Comment number 94.

    What about the animated moaning shadow sequences in Ghost which considering the film is a celluloid marshmallow are genuinely scary.

  • Comment number 95.

    Angels in America anyone?

  • Comment number 96.

    #92. Oh yes, that film "Heartless" - well, it's good thing I hadn't intended to see it or anything given that you have just ruined it by describing the whole plot in detail!

    Ever heard of a Spoiler Alert? sheesh...

  • Comment number 97.

    ...and it's not even been officially released yet!

  • Comment number 98.


    ***for people reading from the bottom up, skip paragraphs 2 and 3 of comment 92 about the philip ridley film 'heartless' (semi-spoiler)***

    ...and I thought I was being as vague as possible to avoid that.

    yeah, I think the organisers said it was a Scottish premiere and that it had only been at 2 or 3 british screenings prior to that (e.g. London Frightfest) - packed house, but slightly disappointing because the really perverse, interesting characters were slightly sidelined. To be honest, you could see the plot pattern straight away and from the description of 'modern faust / social chaos' on the program, but I thought there were some really interesting ideas lurking around in the backround that lots of the film students watching on seemed to miss as they admired the great Manx / English urban locations and cinematography/FX.

    I thought that the journey towards an 'afterlife' was one of the 3 main themes along with the true social nature of real evil and family ties, but everyone else just thought it about social decay via horror conventions.

  • Comment number 99.

    there was an article in today's 'Times' cinema section - a 2 page spread about Philip Ridley - wierd. He barely mentioned the film, but did explore his sense of 'inner world' and it's influences, as commented on above. Talks about the way he viewed childhood, particularly his. Just spotted the article totally by chance.

  • Comment number 100.

    Ron D Moore's Battlestar Galactica has an amazing exploration of what the afterlife might be like, not only visually, by using real locations, but also conceptually, by blending the technological and scientific with the supernatural and religious. My other favourite depiction of the afterlife is in Wim Wenders' The Wings of Desire and Far Away So Close.


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