- Directed by Joel Schumacher
- August 10, 1990 (US)
A group of medical students decide to experiment and bring themselves close to death, but soon strange and frightening visions bleed into their reality making them believe something has followed them back.
When I talk about Flatliners I am talking about the 1990 original and not the unnecessary remake. Not that an original film is necessary but why remake something good? I am of the mind that only flops should get a do over. Anyway…
This is the type of movie that would come out at the time: a group of med students (played by all the hot, young, and attractive commodities of Hollywood at the time-how did Oliver Platt get in there?) try to seek out what lies beyond death only to have their sins and secrets follow them back. A little pretentious at points and going for very deep consistently. That is pretty much everything to the movie and director Joel Schumacher makes the most out of it.
Nelson Wright (Kiefer Sutherland), who comes up with the idea, from the start is a troubled yet cocky medical student who convinces four of his friends to join him to explore near death experiences by actually going near death. You think it is driven by his ego and a need to make a name for himself.
Nelson goes first and has a vision of a boy he bullied but is vague about what he saw when revived. The thing is he starts seeing visions WITHOUT being brought to the brink and you believe something supernatural is going on. You think he brought something dark and evil back with him and expect the story to take a distinctly supernatural turn. Rather though these hallucinations become examinations of the characters. The odd visuals they experience are a look into their own psyches rather than a torment from some supernatural beast.
Joe (William Baldwin) is the next to go and he describes his experience as erotic. Joe has an obsession with random sexual encounters and videotaping them. This is in contrast to the façade he puts on with his fiancé.
David (Kevin Bacon) goes next and has visions of a girl he bullied at school. How this reflects on David appears less thought out with him just feeling guilty about the events that inspired what he is dealing with.
Rachel (Julia Roberts), David’s girlfriend, is the last to go and has visions of her father. Rachel is the most keen on the topic of near death and when taking care of people at the university hospital asks questions of those that have been revived to better understand the subject. Rachel’s father committed suicide and she wants to be certain he is in a better place.
Every one of the characters save for Randy (Oliver Platt) helps each other flatline and are brought back. Randy is there documenting the events and disbelieving of the stories they relay.
Soon after those that participated start experiencing visions or hallucinations. They seem real and very physical. Nelson begins to see visions of Billy Mahoney (Joshua Rudoy), a boy he bullied. Joe becomes haunted by visions of the women he has secretly videotaped. David is repeatedly harassed by the girl he bullied. Rachel begins to encounter her father.
But in the end, none of it is real. What they are seeing and experiencing are their personal demons. Flatliners is a pretty good movie whose basic message is to come to terms with your wrongs or the trauma of the past. What you have done wrong and realize is wrong will haunt you until you seek to make things right.
Joel Schumacher was behind this film as well as the classic The Lost Boys. He could do interesting things with horror and in general looked to be moving towards an amazing level of creativity. Somewhere along the line though he lost a step or two and started producing junk like his Batman films.
Flatliners is such a great piece of drama about how the wrongs of the past can continue to haunt us into the present. It is about coming to terms with the evils you have done and forgiving yourself as well as seeking to do better. This is a well helmed piece of work that everyone should watch.