Movies about the after life with a Mormon tie-in

1. Defending Your Life (1991)- Written, directed, and starring Albert Brooks, this is a kind of funny take on the afterlife. Brooks plays Daniel Miller, a fairly successful, but average sort of guy who spends his birthday taking a drive by himself. During that drive, his car is hit by a bus and he is sent into the next world.

In the next world, the dead take a tram to a hotel where they can rest after the ordeal of dying, having the best sleep of their life. The experience is not unlike being a tourist, but this time it's in Judgment City. In the morning, the dead meet their defenders (kind of like lawyers) that try to get the dead to move on by proving they have overcome fears, otherwise the dead return to earth for another go around. Moving on also means learning to use more of their brain since the earth-bound human uses only about 3%, while those who've moved on, like the lawyers who use around 50%. Then comes the judgment: the dead are on trial for several days where their defenders spar with a prosecutor in front of two judges to decide if they are to move on. (Although they are assured that this isn't like court.)

Albert is full of fears, and each moment of his life (shown by film) that the lawyers analyze essentially show what a coward he is. This greatly contrasts the confident and fearless Julia, played by Meryl Streep. Julia and Albert meet the evening of their first full day in Judgment City and quickly hit it off. A kind of romantic-comedy ensues wherein they spend the next few days spending their extra time together. Julia is guaranteed to go to the next life (she gets to stay in a fancier hotel), but Albert is full of doubts--will they make it to the next world together?

As crazy as the premise is, the fun dialogue and the combination of a witty Albert Brooks and a radiant Meryl Streep are enough to keep it on track and amusing. Having the point of life being about overcoming fears also makes it a descent message movie; it goes down easy with all the humorous dialogue.

Plus, since I watched it with other Mormons, many doctrinal connections were made: proving yourself through life experiences, progressing to the next world, becoming infinitely smarter. The idea that life has a purpose is appealing, in that it give a reason to do the things you do. In Defending Your Life, it's overcoming fear. In Mormonism, it's becoming more like Christ, and that usually translates to being "righteous" and following the commandments. In both cases, this leads to becoming more than you already are and becoming more god-like.

2. After Life (1998)- After Life is a lovely Japanese film that unfolds slowly. It starts on a Monday where the newly dead are introduced to their situation by workers in a well-worn facility with several small rooms with tables separating the dead and the workers. Much of the film is shot in these rooms as the dead recollect their lives. Their one task before they move on from this place is to choose one memory they'd like to carry with them to the next life; they will forget everything else. At the end of the week, the workers will assist in filming this memory for the dead to show on their last day in the facility, after which they'll move on.

Much of the film shows the dead telling their best memories: going to Disneyland, the night with their best customer as a prostitute, flying through clouds in a military plane. Some of the memories change, some can't think of a memory, and others simply refuse to choose. My favorite character chose a memory with her brother. She had just finished a dance recital, and her brother and friends told her they'd give her food if she'd dance for them. The telling by her, and later her helping a little girl on set film her story is sweet and lovely.

The most interesting characters are the workers at the facility. We slowly learn that they are also dead and why they are there. The climax of film comes after we learn why certain workers are still at the facility. It's interesting to note that these dead can feel and make relationships with each other and the newly dead, but it doesn't really add on to their actual life experiences.

This reveals the big difference between this afterlife and the Mormon after life: they keep one happy memory forever, without experiencing more. Mormons believe that people keep living life after death. Relationships are intact and strenghtened, and new experiences are created. Having life be over would be a relief, but having relationships and experiences continue would give you the chance to make yourself better and improve on the last life. Mormon doctrine is deeply rooted in hard-working protestantism and hopeful Americanism: you can always do better and improve if you work hard. The more you can do the better. Although, After Life's afterlife has more appeal: there is not heaven or hell, just eternity with your happiest memory, and that would be great, since you can't know there's more happiness if you've never experienced it. This would be your happiest forever.

1 comment:

  1. Kelsy. haha I have semi-stalked your blog for a while off and on. You should feel honored. How spooky am I? No. Spooky isn't the right word. I just refer to myself as "creepy" far too often...ummm how sinister? How eldritch? haha That's a word, apparently.

    Anyway, Defending Your Life! I have seen it. More than once. Pretty enjoyable. Okay that's all I had to say.