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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

question of the day: Have the movies (or TV) ever gotten the afterlife right?

We get yet another cinematic vision of the afterlife this weekend in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief: Percy and pals go to Hell… the underworldly realm of his uncle Hades, and it’s the usual sort of Hell, all sulfurous air and flames and chicks in S&M gear. (Steve Coogan as Hades is the best thing about the movie, but alas, he has mere minutes of screen time.)

Coincidentally, Anne Billson in the Guardian yesterday lamented how boring movie afterlifes tend to be:

“It’s heaven!” says a dead girl as she drifts through one of the CGI landscapes in Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. To which you feel like replying, “Duh, no. It’s a field of corn.” What is it about fields of corn? There was one in the afterlife in Steven Spielberg’s Always as well, though at least that had Audrey Hepburn in it.

You wouldn’t catch me dead in a cornfield, which I’d worry was just waiting for creepy children, crows or crop-dusting planes to roll up. Jackson hedges his bets by piling on dozens of other backdrops, ranging from Caspar David Friedrich to The Sound of Music, but like most film-makers’ visions of the beyond, they’re all corny. It’s as though their imaginations have all got stuck at Bosch’s triptychs.

Movie heavens tend to be rural, because everyone’s been brainwashed into thinking cornfields are preferable to, say, Paris or Berlin. But do they have to be so boring?

I’d personally much prefer a Parisian afterlife to an Iowan one. (Oh, and yes, I may still review The Lovely Bones at some point…)

Have the movies (or TV) ever gotten the afterlife right? Which, if any, movie or TV hereafter looks like somewhere you’d actually be able to endure spending eternity in?

I’d say that Milliway’s, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, looks pretty good, except that Arthur Dent was wrong: he wasn’t dead and it wasn’t the après-vie

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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