Viking Night: Flatliners

By Bruce Hall

June 28, 2017

A brain... and an athlete... and a basket case... and a princess... and a criminal.

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I started taking cold showers recently, as a means to an end. They're a good way to wake up, and not just when you’re in Vegas. I find the experience brings with it clarity and focus, as well as a convenient way to put the rest of your day in perspective.

Most of the time, I find the hardest part of my day over before I leave the house.

The same motivation is probably behind a lot of science. I don’t mean cold showers; I mean people who seek knowledge for the sake of perspective. The more you know, the more you realize there is to know, which can be a mind-blowing experience. I would imagine the medical profession attracts many such people, and then mostly weeds them out by the age of 30. The rest, I can only assume, are left to dance on the fringe of the profession like a sexy mashup of Doctor House and Doctor Who.

Nelson Wright (Kiefer Sutherland) is such a man, a medical student obsessed with exploring life after death, but still young enough to somehow be nihilistic about it. He has concocted a regime of experiments whereby he intends to explore the boundary between life and death by pumping himself full of drugs. Off screen, he’s managed to recruit a team of (somewhat) like-minded classmates who all have their own reasons for wanting to work with him.

Rachel (Julia Roberts) is mousy in the way Hollywood thinks mousey girls look, and she brings the earnestness and idealism of a child into the Afterlife Sweepstakes. Dave (Kevin Bacon) is a petulant, evangelical atheist - which is a character you have to have in a movie like this. Randy (Oliver Platt) is a preening intellectual who carries around a voice recorder and prattles on in overblown beat-prose like his own hype man.


Finally, Joe (William Baldwin) is an arrogant lothario, and therefore the one most likely to achieve actual success in the medical profession.

Dave and Rachel seem to have a muted personal interest in one another, but aside from that the group seems only casually familiar overall. At the beginning of the film, it’s clear that Nelson has already approached them. It’s also clear that they’re all terrified at the implications, but are obviously going to go through with it because most of them were on the movie poster, so how could they not? It’s an admittedly thin setup, telling us little about each character aside from what you’ve learned from me so far.

There’s also a battle for Sexiest Lips of all Time between Roberts and Baldwin. I couldn’t pick a winner, so I just kept watching.

I’m not sure what to make of the school where the kids study. It’s a campus of imposing Gothic (obviously) architecture, the interiors of which look like a ‘90s era Madonna video. The curriculum appears to consist entirely of pulling things out of cadavers while stern looking women pace a hole in the floor behind you. Were this not a Joel Schumacher film I would find this strange, but it is, so I don’t. Nonetheless, I can see why so many of the students there are obsessed with death. There can’t BE that much else to think about in an environment like that.

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