Flatliners (1990) – Joel Schumacher

I remember the first time I saw Joel Schumacher’s colour-drenched Flatliners. I walked out of the theatres committed to the idea of flatlining. If it could be done in a controlled environment, I thought, sign me up!

Some thirty years on, I’m still all for it. I think it would be an incredible exploration of the possibilities of activity after death.

Schumacher’s cinematic style, his use of colours, framing, and storytelling sensibilities serve the film, which follows five med students who seek to explore what lies beyond death. Led by the driven, but selfish, Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland), the students set up a lab in a section of the school that is being renovated to insure secrecy.

Joining Nelson are David Labraccio (Kevin Bacon), Rachel Mannus (Julia Roberts), Joe Hurley (William Baldwin) and Randy Steckle (Oliver Platt). After initially disbelieving that Nelson would go through with it, other members of the group push the time limit that they are clinically dead to see if they can discover the undiscovered country.

But when they come back, they aren’t coming back alone. Somehow, to paraphrase Nelson, they’ve brought their sins back with them, and they are pissed.

The cast sparkles, you can’t help but love a film that has a cast like this, Sutherland’s Nelson is broody and a little jealous of Bacon’s David, who is smart, dedicated, and a natural leader. But it is their pasts that are engaging, and also define who they are.

Sure, you can blow off the idea behind the film, which is basically reminding us that the golden rule is a good way to live, but it also shows us that there is how we perceive others, and how they perceive us.

There are some very creepy moments throughout the film, but for all the things it shows us, it also tells us that, in the end, there is nothing to fear from death. In the film, the characters are simply confronted with some of the terrible things they’ve done, and how that has affected those they hurt.

The message is simple, but damn, if I don’t love this film so much. I often find myself wondering about what comes next, I don’t think things end, I think things go on, and I think that’s why I find the idea of sneaking a peek, like these characters do, is so intriguing.

Throughout the film, Schumacher uses a lot of neon and vibrant colours as well as a constantly moving camera all designed to give the film a heightened reality. It’s not really a surprise that Nelson and his group are working in a building that’s being refurbished, and contains a lot of paintings depicting mythological characters like Prometheus.

Sure, those are things I didn’t catch back in 1990 when I first saw it, but it resonated with me then, and it resonates with me now. For me, it’s right up there with The Lost Boys as Schumacher’s best.

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