Release Date: August 10, 1990
Runtime: Approximately 2 hours.
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Director: Joel Schumacher
Producer: Michael Douglas & Rick Bieber
Writer: Peter Filardi
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Each student has a different reason for wanting to take part in the secret experiment. Rachel, contemplating her deceased father, wants to make sure that when you die you're going to a good place.
Nelson, an egomaniac, wants to die and come back with the answers to life and death, because he believes that philosophy and religion have failed, so it is now up to the physical scientists. However, soon after his life-after-death experience, the supernatural begins to intrude violently upon his reality through strange occurrences and shadowy characters who tell him, "In the end, we all know what we've done."
Joe, the promiscuous womanizer, begins to have negative experiences, too, after he dies and is revived. His sexual conquests come back to haunt him, as he has to face what he has done to the young women who trusted him.
David goes under next, and a schoolmate he scorned and laughed at during childhood later materializes to give him the same treatment. The last to take a peek at the afterlife is Rachel, whose near-death journey returns her to childhood to relive her dad's traumatic suicide. She is subsequently hounded by her father's apparition.
It is David who realizes they have brought back manifestations of their past sins, something for which they had not bargained. Somehow their sins have physically come back looking for them, with the people they've wronged wanting revenge. To right his wrong, it is David (ironically, the atheist), who seeks out his victim, now an adult, to ask for forgiveness. Rachel, too, grants forgiveness to her drug-addict father's apparition.
Forced to deal with their previous transgressions here in the present, the participants learn about life as well as death, an aspect of the film worth commending. Nelson, however, does not want to ask for forgiveness from the boy whose death he accidentally caused many years ago. Instead, Nelson decides to die a second time so that he can fight his assailant on equal ground. The surprise ending is enlightening.
The film's premise is that death is not a pleasant experience if there are sins in our lives for which we haven't been forgiven. According to director Schumacher, "we would all like to know what is in store for us when we die. There have been thousands of reports from all over the world from those who have encountered 'near death,' and most of them have reported pleasant experiences. Our movie, however, is saying that you're not to tamper with death. If there is anything we're supposed to learn about it, it will be revealed when we die."
Producer Bieber adds: "There's no question that we're dealing with a subject matter that does have religious overtones." Whether Schumacher and Bieber realize it or not, their film parallels the story line of the Bible: man needs redemption for his sins.
The film moves in the right direction when it says we need forgiveness for sin in our lives, but overlooks the biblical fact that nothing you do on your own, including forgiving others, can put you in right standing with God. Besides, which one of us could possibly generate enough forgiveness to atone for all the wrongs we have committed, or have been committed against us? Even then, that person would have to deal with the very essence of human nature which is infected from birth by sin thanks to the Fall.
However, thanks be to Jesus Christ! "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).
The film presents the right principle, but not the right person. Still, the film makers know that they should touch upon religion, evident from all the crosses that hang on walls, or statues and friezes who seem to watch the going-ons. Even the sets and environment are designed to symbolically represent man's eternal struggle with death. Ominous lighting beneath an iron-grid floor evokes images of the underworld, while angels and guardians above the columns suggest divine protection.
Oddly enough, the students several times profane the Name of the very One who can give them what they need; until the very end, when one of them jubilantly shouts, upon Nelson's return to the land of the living, "Thank you, Jesus!" Thus, through using the power of drama to imply some things that are left unsaid, the film will lead your non-Christian friends to start asking questions, and for this reason they should be encouraged to see it.
It is extremely doubtful that FLATLINERS will tempt anyone to engage in life-after-death experiences, but that is always a possibility in this fallen world. In fairness to the film, this notion is rebuked through Nelson's last line of dialogue, when he says, "It's not a good day to die."
Overall, FLATLINERS may be the closest depiction yet of what would really happen to a life that dies apart from being saved by Christ. For those of us who have already accepted Christ, we are not afraid of death, but welcome it when it comes. For to us, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). That is, our lives find their meaning in Christ, and the gain brought by death is being with Christ.
Unfortunately, FLATLINERS overflows with profanities, obscenities, fornication, nudity, crude sexual innuendo, attempted murder, and a few gross scenes with cadavers -- all of which could have been avoided without diminishing the power of the movie one iota. Furthermore, many scenes are quite frightening. Thus, FLATLINERS is not an edifying movie for most Christians or their families. However, you may want to pray that pagans who see the movie will come to know the true forgiveness for our sins, which is only available through Jesus Christ.
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