Flatliners is a remake of the 1990’s sci-fi horror movie of the same name. It warns of experimentation and analysis and looks for supernatural answers to mental torment. Christian Tesfaye is thus disapproving, awarding a mere 3 out of 10 stars.
I hate lessons in movies. There is nothing more annoying than a film that tries to tell its audience to subscribe to a particular way of life or belief. Although I do have a soft spot for those that are aesthetic, and in some cases prefer them than movies with commentary, I do believe films should generally stick to a theme.
Every opinion a film may have about any subject should be approached with reason, not preached. Because all movies that attempt to ‘teach’ are in effect implying that the audience knows less than they do. On the other hand, good movies endeavour to understand, and present avenues that one may choose to follow. In doing so, they provoke debate and create interest.
Flatliners is not like that. It is a movie that starts with a specific view of the world – that everything will be OK if one is willing to find absolution – and completely ignores all other perspectives. It is in love with itself to the point that the film feels like a waygate to a particular religion. While it plays, it draws a thick line between itself and the audience, completely unwilling to meet anyone in the middle.
The movie starts with a car crash. Courtney (Ellen Page), who was driving, loses her sister, who was on the passenger’s side. But Courtney is a gifted medical student. Soon she learns that there are means to navigate the afterlife, or more accurately, near-death experiences.
She mobilises her colleagues and commands them to stop her heart for a few minutes before they resuscitate her back to life. She almost dies, but the procedure pans out. More importantly, Courtney remembers what has happened (she floated around the city) in the few minutes that she was “dead”.
The next morning, her friends are psyched to find out that Courtney has expanded her memory. Flatlining did not just give her a glimpse into the afterlife; it made her smarter. Thus, her peers want a little bit of the fun. They try it out; the same effects transpire. But as time goes on, they learn that, well, there are side effects.
I do hope not. I understand how primitive man might be overwhelmed by Flatliners’ premise, but everyone that is alive today has seen way too many movies not to guess where the movie is exactly going.
Ever since the 1970s, horror movies have tried to contemplate that area between fun and too-much-fun. Horror movie characters, usually teenagers, reach that point where whatever it is they are taking or doing becomes excessive. The high they have received from the experiment – before anyone can guess – stops being fun and becomes dangerous.
The fact that movies such as Flatliners proliferated in that period, the 1970s and 80s, makes a lot of sense if one looks back to the 1960s.
It is often said that Hollywood lags the contemporary. In the ’60s, movies were made to suit the previous decade’s American conservatism, as witness The Sound of Music. In the ’70s, Hollywood aspired to match late ’60s antiestablishmentarianism, as the Best Picture Oscar that went to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest attests. Perhaps, the 2020s will focus on Trumpism.
The film’s flatliners are the youth of the ’60s. The latter experimented with drugs, rock music, counterrevolutionary movements and non-violent civil right protests. But somehow, the decade of love and new perspectives quickly came to an end, especially in the resurgence of the ‘Silent Majority’, and their chosen president, Richard Nixon. The ’60s fell under its own weight, and before the decade was barely out, some of its greatest advocates – Jim Morrison, Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin, to name a few – had died of drug overdoses. The fun had gone too far. It had become a tragedy.
Flatliners follows in the same suit. The procedure of flatlining that has given the students mental powers, as it gave the ’60s counterrevolutionaries a voice, has resulted in hallucinations, just as the hippies ended up being rejected by most of their society.
Flatliners, though, claims to have found a panacea for the side-effects. Absolution, it seems, could rid one of mental paralysis, and thus pain. This in itself is not a bad thing, but it points that the students were guilty in the first place.
As a case study, the movie presents characters that are too guilty.
What is the likelihood that among a group of med students, one has killed her sister by texting and driving, the other has altered an autopsy report to absolve herself of manslaughter, another has disappeared on a girlfriend he had impregnated and the most innocent looking of the bunch has distributed nude photos of an academic rival in high school?
I do not consider myself high and mighty. But if I was ever to flatline and come back to consciousness again, the worst evil that could haunt me is not leaving insufficient tips. To a certain extent, the same goes for the majority of human beings.
Nonetheless, what Flatliners wanted to do was teach, not discuss. It gives us the worst types of adults it could find and uses them as an example for the rest of us.
It forgets – or chooses to – that is possible to be experimental without being faulty in the first place. Sure, Hendrix took a lot of drugs, which was bad, but he made great music too. There is nothing he has to be sorry about. Similarly, the characters in Flatliners are imperfect only because the writers chose to make them be. If it were real life, the afterlife, or something like that, would be discovered by a lot more cooler and moral individuals.
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