Flatliners

1990
Directed by Joel Schumacher

I loved this movie the first time I saw it.

It’s not good. There are so many flaws. Sure, the acting is pretty decent. But I remember telling people about it back then, and trying to convince them it was good, and none of them agreed.

Here’s the premise: A group of super cocky med students (who for some reason go to school in a place that looks like a dark and shadowy church) decide to start killing each other, confident that they can bring each other back to life. They all want to know what happens on the other side, for one reason or another.

It doesn’t work out so hot for them.

Leading the group is Kiefer Sutherland, maybe still riding high off of Stand By Me, but more likely riding low off of Young Guns II. Julia Roberts plays the purist — the serious one who works with actual dying people and honestly wants to know the truth. Oliver Platt is the doctor/poet, sort of a William Carlos Williams, who is interested in the abstract, but plays the guy with the reaction we’re supposed to identify with, which is: fuck this noise. Kevin Bacon plays a nontraditional student, not only because his character is an atheist but also because Bacon was solidly in his 30s at the time. William Baldwin plays a lecherous doofus who’s allowed to participate because he owns a camcorder.

It turns out the shit on the other side isn’t pretty. It turns out, you have to confront your sins, real or perceived. And when you come back from the dead, those sins follow.

Can I break away for one sexist minute to tell you something I never realized? OK, when I think of Julia Roberts I think of Pretty Woman, The Pelican Brief, etc. I think of a solid 90s actress who starred in a bunch of popular but not-very-good films. A household name. A standard. The female Tom Hanks. But here’s something I never realized until now: Holy crap is Julia attractive. Sorry, but it’s true.

Flatliners wants to be Jacob’s Ladder, and maybe I’ll write about that movie sometime. But it’s not. It’s a very well-acted movie with a shitty script that had a lot of potential. I saw it at a time when I was an English major attending a Catholic school full of people pursuing careers in the medical field. It makes sense. It resonated. Plus there’s the whole schadenfreude aspect for people like me in that situation. “Oh you’re going to be king of the world? Well, let me tell you what Shakespeare has to say about motherfuckers like you.”

But all of these people have acted at least this good in better movies. Except maybe William Baldwin. This is probably his finest work.

Oh wait. He was in Backdraft. Nevermind.

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