FLATLINERS (2017) Movie Preview
CHRIST IN CULTURE
In "Flatliners," five medical students, obsessed by the mystery of what lies beyond the confines of life, embark on a daring and dangerous experiment: by stopping their hearts for short periods of time, each triggers a near-death experience - giving them a firsthand account of the afterlife. But as their experiments become increasingly dangerous, they are each haunted by the sins of their pasts, brought on by the paranormal consequences of trespassing to the other side.
Release date: September 29, 2017
Studio: Screen Gems (Sony)
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence and terror, sexual content, language, thematic material, and some drug references)
Screenwriter: Ben Ripley
Starring: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemens, Kiefer Sutherland
"We all want to know what happens when we die, but some things are clearly best left unknown," says Laurence Mark, producer of the new film Flatliners. In the film, five medical students become obsessed with these questions - and pay no heed to the producer's warning.
"Flatliners is a journey into the unknown - the last unknown, you could say," says director Niels Arden Oplev, best known for his work as the director of the Swedish film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the pilot of the acclaimed series "Mr. Robot." "It's an outrageous subject, to travel beyond death and have your friends try to bring you back, to explore what's on the other side."
Flatliners begins as one medical student - who has her own, carefully guarded motivations - convinces four of her colleagues to embark with her on a dangerous experiment: she wants to stop her heart and experience death for a short period of time, monitoring her brain activity to see if they can find any proof of the afterlife; then, she needs her colleagues to bring her back to life.
What could convince anyone to try something so dangerous? What else but the promise of groundbreaking - and fame-making - results. "Imagine if they found the proof they were looking for: it would be the greatest medical discovery of the century," says Oplev. "Courtney, played by Ellen Page, appeals to the pressure the other students feel in a cutthroat environment. As one character says: this is not a medical school that is educating country doctors - they are there to push the dial on human knowledge."
What the medical students find is something they did not expect: having flatlined and faced death, they not only experience what the afterlife might be like - they come back better. "By traveling to the kingdom of death, they come back with enhanced abilities," says Oplev. "They're trying to shortcut themselves to greatness. But there's a bill to be paid for doing that."
And that bill is steep: as they face their deaths and resurrections, the characters are all forced to confront the regretful actions of their pasts. "All of us, at some point in our lives, have done something we're either ashamed of or that we regret," says producer Michael Douglas. As the students in the film face death, he says, it becomes a chance for them to face up to these sins. "As they are haunted by their mistakes, they discover that it's never too late to try to remedy the past," he continues.
"They're confronted with elements from earlier in their lives that they're not proud of," adds Oplev. "In essence, they come to a new realization of who they really are."
The original Flatliners hit the big screen in 1990. An extremely stylized and unsettling film, it immediately struck a nerve with audiences. Now, more than 25 years later, Flatliners returns to the screen in a contemporary reimagining. Douglas, a producer of the original film, teamed with producers Laurence Mark and Peter Safran to bring the retelling to the screen.
To direct the new adaptation, the producers tapped Oplev. "Niels brings a fantastic European author sensibility to a commercial American thriller," says Safran. "What was important to all of us, and especially to Niels, was that the characters work: he ensured that everything that happens to the characters is rooted in reality, and that their past mistakes and the actions they take to redeem themselves are believable."
It was also important to Oplev to create a film that stood on its own and spoke to contemporary audiences.
"Of course, it's a thrilling entertainment, but the subject also has built-in depth to it. We could create a film that has all the good tension and entertainment of a thriller, but also depth, credibility and realism. That's why I was drawn to this project," says Oplev.
Mark says it made sense to take a more realistic approach. "Science and technology have changed dramatically over the last quarter century," says Mark. "We approached this movie in a way that was much more grounded and rooted in medical reality."
One way that Oplev would ground the thriller was with a commitment to realism. "Flatliners has supernatural elements with fun and scary stuff, but within that, I wanted it to be totally believable," says Oplev. "When they flatline for the first time, I wanted you to 100% believe that it was really happening."
Even more importantly, Oplev would ground the film with the strong characters, says Safran. "We wanted to strongly establish the characters early on so that when they experience the supernatural phenomena that occur after they have flatlined, you're seeing it all through their eyes: you know what they're going through, you know what they've experienced in life, and now you fear for them."
Ben Ripley, who previously penned the box-office success Source Code, was brought on board to write the script, from a story by Peter Filardi. Says Ripley, "I was in college when the original film came out and I remember thinking it had a very smart premise, so I was intrigued by the idea of a remake. Because the elements were all there - the universal appeal of inquiring into the afterlife, the themes of atonement and redemption - I had the luxury of being able to import a structure that was totally solid. What I did do was update the science, the technology and make the cast much more diverse and competitive, keeping in line with medical schools today."
Ripley consulted extensively with medical specialists throughout the writing process. "I became interested in the idea of neurology as the driver for the characters' interest in flatlining," he explains. "We still don't really know much about how the brain works; it's a machine that's way too complex for us to understand. I began to wonder: what if there's a region of the brain that's responsible for producing a near-death experience, just like there are regions that cause us to feel anger or to taste a lemon?"
On numerous occasions throughout the writing process, Ripley was able to accompany a neurologist friend at his work, sitting in on morning presentation meetings and interviewing medical students on neurology rotations. "A lot of that made it into the script," says Ripley. "We all wanted to keep things as believable as possible, so many of the medical situations you see in the movie are in fact written and executed with a high degree of realism."