Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Hereafter, concerns itself with what happens once you have, as John Cleese might say, “shuffled off this mortal coil.”
In the film, a woman has a near death experience, beginning her walk into a bright light surrounded by misty figures making a similar journey into that great goodnight. That’s just the most recent cinematic vision of what happens after death, but there are many more, some played for laughs, sometimes for drama and now and then for comfort.
In Deconstructing Harry, Woody Allen goes for the joke, taking the viewer on an elevator ride through hell’s nine floors, each reserved for a different kind of sinner. Best line? “Floor 7: the media. Sorry, that floor is all filled up.”
Tim Burton also had some fun with the afterlife in Beetlejuice. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis get tips on how to haunt their old house in a book titled Handbook for the Recently Deceased. Best line? “We're not completely helpless, Barbara,” says Adam (Baldwin). “I've been reading that book and there's a word for people in our situation: ghosts.”
Taking the hereafter a bit more seriously is The Rapture, which sees Mimi Rogers almost reunited with her dearly departed daughter. This version of Heaven is much starker than the usual sweetness and light paradise seen on film; there’s no Pearly Gates or fluffy clouds with angels snacking on Philadelphia Cream Cheese. For that version check out the opening minutes of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. The story of a dead carnival worker who asks for permission to be sent back to earth for one day to make amends for mistakes he made in life starts with a glittering vision of heaven, complete with sparkling stars. Best heavenly quote? “Here there is no time; this is the beginning and the end.”
What Dreams May Come, the 1998 film about a man who leaves heaven to search hell for his wife paints heaven as a place that, as Roger Ebert noted, seems “cheerfully assembled from the storage rooms of images we keep in our minds: Renaissance art, the pre-Raphaelites, greeting cards, angel kitsch.” The heaven in this film is a wonderful place “big enough for everyone to have their own private universe.”
On the flipside is the movie’s vision of hell as a surreal, dark place. Best quote: “Hell is for those who don't know they're dead.”