Title: Flatliners (1990)
Tagline: Some lines shouldn’t be crossed.
Summary: Third-year medical students decide to play with life and death, “flatlining” themselves into death to explore the great beyond. But Death doesn’t like being fucked with and consequences abound.
Note: This film has a metric ton of medical terminology – which I do my best to unpack and explain – as well as dealing with several suicide(s) and/or attempts. It’s not exactly a happy film. It may be too heavy for some in the current 2020 year of the pandemic.
Well, here we are.
Look. Flatliners is one of my holiest of holies: a movie I almost vowed never to recap, because to recap means to pick it apart and show all its faults to the world. I know this movie is flawed as fuck. It is far from perfect. Great concept, not so amazing story execution. It is a time capsule film, staring a bunch of actors that were (unfairly?) lumped in with The Brat Pack, which meant critics could (unfairly) label it a Brat Pack movie and clobber it in reviews. “St Elmo’s Funeral” and “The Breakfast Club Dies” were actually jokes made by Sutherland in a press interview with Fangoria Magazine. Kinda sums it up, really. [Wing: I want to watch The Breakfast Club Dies, honestly.]
Yes, it does star Kevin Bacon (Earth’s mightiest hero?), Kiefer Sutherland (post-vampire, pre-Bauer), and Julia Roberts (oh well), along side one of the lesser Baldwin brothers, William [JC: Lesser? Not . . . really? Billy was a top-tier Baldwin in the 90s. Until he wasn’t. Stephen and Daniel, the true lesser Baldwins, never reached Billy and Alec’s tier.], and (Dove and I share custody of) Oliver Platt [JC: Gee, guys, save some Platt for the rest of us, huh? I’m all good as long as I can stake claim to him in Lake Placid.] [bat: Please, go ahead, I’ve only seen parts of that and I don’t remember it at all. Placid!Platt is all yours, JC!] [Dove: I feel I’ve seen that movie, but can’t remember it. He’s all yours.] [Wing: I love Lake Placid, but could not care less about Oliver Platt, so as long as I get the movie, I’ll bow out of this fight.] Out of all of those, at the time, none were true Brat Pack(ers). Bacon, maybe? To contextualize this for people not born during this particular historical period, the biggest thing to come out of this film was the engagement of Sutherland and Roberts. Literally.
Roberts broke off her engagement to Dylan McDermott – with whom she had co-starred in Steel Magnolias – to date and subsequently get engaged uber-quickly to Sutherland. This is the same woman who lived with / dated Liam freaking Neeson when she was 19 in a weird romantic / fatherly relationship. At the time she gravitated towards older men who would “take care of” her.
So she goes from 29 year old Dylan McDermott to 24 year old, once-divorced, father of one Sutherland. Dude from a very broken home and much blended family, who got a much older widowed mother of one pregnant when he was 20 years old and subsequently did marry her. But of course, because of course, it didn’t last and although they broke up the divorce wasn’t official until 1990, the year this movie dropped. (Long estrangements before divorces are a pattern he has.) I do believe that they became involved on-set, before the divorce decree, but that marriage was already done so whatever.
Don’t worry, I’m getting to my point.
So 23 year old Roberts decides that 24 year old Sutherland is the one and they get engaged and, oh my god, it is the number one topic of Hollywood press rags for MONTHS. Seriously, if anything, the fact this happened in an age before social media is a blessing. Yeah, anyone and their dog would drop a dime and tip off the press / paparazzi back in the 1990s but social media would have clobbered the fuck out of both of them. Anyway, they are set to have a literal Hollywood wedding in June 1991.
By the time Flatliners is in the can, Roberts is blowing up in Hollywood. Pretty Woman, the movie she is best known for, drops and America goes insane for her. (I have never seen that movie and never care to.) Jealousy moves in. Roberts stars in Sleeping with the Enemy; Sutherland has Young Guns, Promised Land, and Flashback, under his belt. Roberts gets signed to Hook and Dying Young. They are the hottest young Hollywood power couple.
Flatliners drops like a rock at the box office. Sutherland gets a shitty tattoo on his arm to profess his love for Roberts. (A Japanese kanji symbol. Ugh. I’m pretty damn sure it’s been covered up by now, but you can see it in Young Guns II, when Doc is in the tub reciting poetry at Jane Greathouse’s “respectable” bordello. When two vampires from very different vampire films collide on screen in a Western!) Wedding is now scheduled, 150 guests, four-tier wedding cake, four sea foam green bridesmaid dresses with matching hand-dyed $425 Manolo Blahnik shoes, ceremony to be paid for by and held at 20th Century Fox’s Soundstage 14.
And it all blows up just days before the ceremony. Roberts takes off to Ireland in the arms of Jason Patric, Sutherland’s costar in The Lost Boys. Sutherland only finds out he’s been dumped second hand. Wah wah.
“Kiefer,” said Flatliners director Joel Schumacher before he took his phone off the hook, “is in a situation where you either grow up very fast or you die. If there’s such a thing as an old soul, he has one.”
Forever and ever, Flatliners will be associated with one of the most ill-fated romances of all time. It’s ironic that Sutherland’s character lusts after Roberts’ character in the film but does not end up with her. Fiction meets reality, I guess.
And what of Joel Schumacher, who recently passed away in June? The director who recognized Sutherland’s talents on-screen during a three-second blip in the film At Close Range and immediately wanted to cast him as David, Sutherland’s second-most iconic role. in The Lost Boys? [JC: . . . wait, what’s the first-most iconic? 24? . . . See, to me, there are two Sutherlands – 80s & early-to-mid-90s Sutherland, when I was going through my Sutherland Appreciation Phase and watched everything of his that was readily available; and post-Freeway and Dark City Sutherland, when he was super creepy/gross characters and I realized I was only into him in Stand By Me and The Lost Boys, and I stopped caring. (Sorry, bat.)] [bat: Yes. 24 / Jack Bauer is what 99% of the world knows him for. And you’re right, there’s like a giant dividing line in his career, when he was making terrible films just for money – Freeway, An Eye for an Eye, Woman Wanted, Truth or Consequences, N.M., to name a few – most of which were terrible characters. He’s done all right with TV characters but the film characters continue to be horrible. Corvus, anyone? (No apologies needed, JC. I pretty much agree. Except I love Dark City.)] [JC: Oh, yeah, Dark City is great. Sutherland is just a creepy fuck in it. And I was apologizing for snubbing your boy when he’s anything other than a teen hooligan or vampire lol] [bat: Please don’t feel bad, I snub a lot of his movies just on principle of him not playing the types of characters I love lol]
Flatliners will always be one of his best films. Aesthetically, visually, artistically, it is beautifully filmed and staged for dramatic effect. The music, the locations, the closeups on the actors’ faces, the way the scenes are blocked, all Schumacher. The score written by James Newton Howard (who also scored Pretty Woman) is also so very Schumacher. It’s moody and dark, with bright flashes. Schumacher knew how to work a visual to maximum effect and Flatliners is the goddamn pinnacle of that.
Seriously, if I was ever held at gun point and made to describe my aesthetic, I would say Flatliners. Shocking, I know, you all expect me to say The Lost Boys, and that would probably be second.
It’s funny. I didn’t see the movie until well into my teens. I lived though all that was outlined above but I barely remember it. I just didn’t care. I was 9 when Flatliners dropped and I remember the trailer being melodramatically freaky but that’s about it. It would be another year before I saw The Lost Boys and it wasn’t until around 1993 that I started to really understand that I could basically access a whole back catalog of Sutherland’s films on VHS. Hey, Jurassic Park dropped in 1992. I was much more interested in dinosaurs, okay!
Beyond the visual elements and the cast, Flatliners hit a nerve in me that not a lot of people my age had. I grew up with older parents and with that comes older friends and relatives of said parents. I attended a lot of funerals as a child. By the time I found Flatliners, I was the decidedly “not afraid of death” child in my group of friends, at least from the viewpoint of having lost relatives and (by that point) at least one of my four grandparents. (At the time of this writing, my last surviving grandmother has passed away. [JC: Condolences. Mine passed a few years ago, and it’s such a weird feeling to have an entire generation of your family just not be here anymore.] [Wing: That’s interesting. My parents are also older when they adopted me, old enough that I spent most of my life without any grandparents, and in fact almost all of my aunts and uncles have died, too. (And their kids are significantly older than me.) I have such a skewed view of generations because of it. (My oldest sister is around 20 years older than I am.)]) The fact that medical students were playing with (limited) technology to explore the afterlife hit me in a way that made it fascinating. I share more than a little of Nelson Wright’s curiosity about death. (Also, the hit television show E.R. was just around the corner and I’ve always had a side interest in all things medical, so this movie works on multiple levels for me.)
So why subject a beloved film to a recap? Well, it turns 30 years old this year (August 10th) [Wing: Today, in fact! Happy anniversary, movie!] and the passing of Joel Schumacher (RIP) has left me saddened, and to get Dove and JC to comment on it, I have to do the heavy lifting. [Wing: And I invite myself along, as I often do. This is the joy of being the one who manages most of the schedule.] Whatever. I’ll enjoy the next 114 minutes, no problem. [JC: This is the first super-in-depth bat recap I’ve commented on, and I’m not gonna lie – it’s a little intimidating. When bat loves a thing, bat pulls out ridiculous layers of knowledge/research. I will have nothing to add to those segments other than admiration.] [Dove: I know, right? I thought Three Musketeers would be a gleeful romp through the nostalgia – and it was, but it was also reams of research. bat goes hardcore.]
Thank you, Schumacher, for giving me this and The Lost Boys to shape my world and become comfort watching films. Also, I loved The Client and A Time to Kill, two of his other films. And Car Wash, which was one of the first films I saw and still enjoy to this day. And he’s also responsible for introducing me to Sutherland. See, I’m totally in Schumacher’s debt. This recap is dedicated to your legacy, man. Thank you.
And end on the trailer that gives away all yet nothing…
Ah, the old Columbia Pictures logo.
The distant strains of a choir.
Because the opening of this film not only sets the tone and feel with the choir and music, and is visually stunning to boot, please view it to properly enjoy/set the mood:
(EDIT: God damn it, YT pulled the video clip. FUCK. Well, go find a DVD or Laserdisc or something and watch the opening of the movie!)
(Now I can break this down.)
We open on dawn illuminating Lorado Taft’s Fountain Of Time, a massive (126 feet long) hollow-cast concrete statue that is reinforced with steel, cast via 4,500 molds, that took roughly two years to build. It resides on the western edge of the Midway Plaisance within Washington Park in Chicago, Illinois. It was dedicated in 1922, although planning stretches back clear to, um, 1913. I mean, really, everything began with the grant funded by Benjamin Ferguson’s 1905 gift of $1 million to the city, but you can read all that in the wiki article.
Now, on to the subject matter. The sculpture depicts Father Time, complete with scythe, watching the “life cycle” of humanity, viewed through 100 figures arranged in an ellipse, with “overall pyramidal geometry”. It’s a damn allegory, okay. BUT! What a fitting statue to use in a movie about medical students trying to tease secrets from Death!
We view part of the statue, the time lapse clouds flowing steadily overhead, before the choir bursts forth as the title card appears:
On the left is the Statue of The Republic, a 24 foot gilded bronze replica of the 65 foot high statue that was originally created for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. The original was destroyed by fire, so this recreation was made and dedicated on the 25h anniversary of the Exposition, as well as the centennial of Illinois’ statehood. It is meant to symbolize national unity in the way that all allegorical representations of philosophical concepts do, ala the Statue of Liberty. (Does that sentence make any sense?) [JC: *nods smartly* *tries to look like she knows what she’s doing*]
Anyway, Chicago’s “Golden Lady” is located in Jackson Park. Her right hand holds a globe with an eagle with wings spread perches on it while her left hand grasps a staff with a plaque that reads “liberty“, partly obscured by a laurel wreath. Hello more statues that set the theme and speak to the concepts this movie is trying to depict!
Sutherland’s the top billing and gets his name next to the face of the Golden Lady.
We see SCIENTIA carved on the wall of a building next, we’re into Latin now. (This is also a reference to Nelson Wright being a “man of science”, but we’ll get into that a little later.)
Next up is Julia Roberts, who’s name appears over what I’m guessing to be a statue of a Madonna. I’m struggling to find the statue online, but basing this on the halo around the statue’s head and how that usually figures into religious iconography. (This also plays into Rachel Manus being the only woman in the group, though I wouldn’t necessarily say she’s the character who is most religious.)
We move on to Madonna della Strada chapel, located on the campus of Loyola University Chicago. Basically, the film is set on an unnamed medical school campus but was shot almost entirely on campus at Loyola University Chicago. The camera pans back as it shows the entrance to the chapel, MADONNA engraved in the circular artwork around the door. William Baldwin’s card appears and if any of the characters are “religious”, it would be Joe Hurley. Ugh. More on that later.
A little bit more on the chapel. The English version of the Italian name is “Our Lady of the Good Road“, which amuses me, because MORE SYMBOLISM. The students are “traveling” the road between life and death. The chapel is built on the lakefront with the waters of Lake Michigan directly at its front doorstep. I’ve never held any interest in getting married in a church but if I had to pick one, I’d totally put this at the top of my list. Also, I’ve just learned that an annual “Midnight Organ Blast” is held at midnight on Halloween. Damn. Chicago, stop giving me reasons to visit you!
We move to another statue but I haven’t a clue what it is, what it depicts, or where it is. We see RELIGION, carved the same as SCIENTIA, as Oliver Platt’s title comes up, followed by another statue I cannot find, and finally Kevin Bacon as MEDIC comes up.
Now it’s a bronze relief carving of Hermes / Mercury fighting Death for the caduceus staff. It blips through, showing only enough for me to know what it basically is. (Edit: tie-in novel says it depicts the Grim Reaper clutching the caduceus and a scythe, while the man is Aesculapius, who hasn’t quite got his hand around the caduceus.) MOAR SYMBOLISM!!
Then we get to something Schumacher loved doing: helicopter-shot pan-over of the water! This type of shot was used in the opening of The Lost Boys to great effect, although I think of this version in Flatliners as its opposite. This is sunrise over Lake Michigan, the water barely choppy as it washes the rocks onshore. Sunlight glints off the windows of a brick building, reminding us this is early morning. In the background, from left to right, sits the Mundelein College building, the Madonna della Strada chapel, a building no one seems able to identify and that no longer exists but has been replaced with the modern building housing the Loyola Information Commons (it’s literally built out over where Sutherland stands in the opening scene, boo), and finally… this one is giving me a headache. Current maps say it is Cudahy Library and for the most part, I’m agreeing, but the dome on the building doesn’t feature in the photos I can find. Here’s the thing:
”For instance, to create the university’s fictional Taft Building, we constructed a large promenade set on the lake shore campus at Loyola University, and then used matte paintings to connect the set and the campus exterior with Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry,” Schumacher said.
God damn it, Joel. You did the same damn thing in The Lost Boys, why am I surprised.
I am barely a minute and a half into this film and have written ALL THE ABOVE which has taken almost two hours so let’s keep moving.
The shot continues to zoom in closer and as the buildings move into better alignment, I am more convinced that’s Cudahy Library, because the map I just found says it indeed does have a green dome on it (which you can so obviously see in the shot) and that green dome used to house an Observatory but the El train fucked up the calibration so it was scrapped. This is giving me a headache and I’m getting super fucking frustrated so I WILL JUST MOVE ON TO THE MOST INFAMOUS LINE FROM THIS FILM.
The camera shot finally zooms in close enough so we see a lone figure – blond male, early 20s, green designer trench coat, black clothing, sunglasses – hop over the concrete barrier onto the boulders that ring the shoreline. He walks a few steps to stand beside a (built for the movie) light fixture as he surveys the sun rising over Lake Michigan, removing his sunglasses and pulling his coat tighter, as it’s fucking freezing.
The music crescendos as we view the sun, a tiny globe in the vast distance of the sky, illuminating everything in a golden hue as it time lapse speeds higher into the sky. The camera smash cuts back to Nelson Wright, as he smiles to himself and intones,
“Today is a good day to die.”
[JC: . . . am I the only Trekkie around here? Because:] [bat: I don’t know? Dove? Wing?] [Dove: I think so.] [Wing: Absolutely not. Worf was one of my first childhood crushes, and I grew up watching TNG obsessively. I still rewatch it sometimes.]
NOW WE ARE TWO MINUTES IN AND I’M EXHAUSTED and this is why I didn’t want to recap this. I learned to put so much detail and symbolism into stories because of Schumacher and oh my god that was a fuckton of googling I accomplished, not to mention watching two videos, and using Google maps to sort out buildings. I swear, the movie goes pretty quick for 114 minutes but I don’t think there’s going to be a ton more I have to explain/describe like this. At least not in the next scene.
WHICH WE SMASH RIGHT INTO. Nelson barely finishes speaking before we are immediately shown a man screaming. Someone in medical scrubs is trying to hold him onto the gurney, the man still shouting and causing a fuss. The guy in scrubs is David Labraccio (Kevin Bacon) and he asks the attending physician what’s wrong. “A crack head, get some help.” Labraccio runs from the room, through some sets of double doors and past some religious statuary, into the hall. A woman is on a gurney, her husband clinging to the rolling bed as a nurse calls out vital signs. The woman is dying as she is hemorrhaging out. (The tie-in novel goes into more detail. The woman had a street abortion and it was badly botched. Expect more tidbits from the tie-in novel to appear as needed. Why, yes, of course there’s a novelization.) [Wing: Where’s Jake Houseman to fix botched abortions when you need him? Brief look at how, despite it being legal, abortion was (and remains) difficult for many people to access. Thanks, Muricah.]
HERE’S A BIG FAT NOTE: There is a LOT of medical terminology in this film. The actors literally had to train in the basics just to get the lingo down. I have picked up a lot of it over the years from reading Michael Crichton books and just on my own, as I like medical stuff. I am not going to sit here and recap the literal terminology. I will surmise what is going on, sure. That’s easier on both myself and you, whomever is reading this.
During the fast-paced exchange, Labraccio makes a gut decision that the bleed is from the uterine artery. He pulls hard on the gurney, redirecting everyone into an operating room. He insists he will do the surgery, that the woman will die before a doctor arrives. One of the nurses, though convinced this action will get everyone fired, continues to prep the woman for immediate surgical intervention. The orderly removes the husband, who screams and calls his wife’s name. The other nurse, who appeared in the hallway, backs out and disappears, suspiciously.
The patient is intubated and Labraccio has the scalpel, cutting the patient open and finding the bleeding artery. He clamps it. The nurse announces, “You’ve got her!” just as an actual surgeon rushes into the OR. He demands Labraccio leave, immediately, as the nurse tries to cover her ass by saying she tried to stop Labraccio. Uh huh.
In the hallway, Labraccio stares at the OR, knowing he’s done the right thing but here come the consequences, in the form of an older woman. One of the head doctors, who immediately asks him what the hell is he doing. Uh oh. The camera zooms in close on Labraccio’s face just before we SMASH CUT again to the outside of the former Palace of Fine Arts building, now known as the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
The same elaborate light fixtures liter the exterior, tying it into the opening sequence from the lakeside. The grounds are torn up, grass gone, (actually, there’s a lake? but they filmed from an angle to hide that) construction barriers with those slow flashing yellow lights everywhere, with yellow tape strung between them. In the tie-in novel it is named the “Taft building”, 80 years old and in need of renovation. It is also very much described as a “laboratory”, which is fitting for our movie about death experimentation. The building is closed off, accessible only to workers. Also, 1989, meaning there’s probably few to zero security cameras.
THIS IS HOW NELSON GETS AWAY WITH HIS EXPERIMENT. Which, you would think, would be something the movie would explain. But it doesn’t. It does factor in and there’s some consequences to picking a building that is being renovated but we’ll get there when we get there.
Nelson wanders down the path before pausing to make sure he’s alone. From there he runs in to the lower part of the building, putting his plan into action. (The tie-in novel explains how he secures entry and fixes the doors for later reentry.) But first, let’s take a detour!
We move into a dorm room (?) of sorts. Meet Randall Steckle (Oliver Platt) who is obsessed with inventing a title to his as-yet-forthcoming-autobiography. Problem? He’s not a surgeon yet. He speaks into a small handheld cassette recorder, rejecting various ideas as he pours himself a large cup of coffee. He eventually settles on “Genesis of a Young Surgeon” and I just totally typed Young Guns before having to delete it. Sigh. [JC: Diary of a Young Bowtie-Wearer?] [bat: How appropo!]
Back to Nelson. The main room is a large one with a glass rotunda ceiling. The walls are decorated with elaborate paintings of the history of medicine housed in arched niches, the marble floors decorated in an elaborate art deco pattern. I swear to god, this is my aesthetic so hard. Workers gather to restore the artwork, the room draped in various plastic panels, ladders and paint cans everywhere. Nelson appears, wandering down a hallway, a red NO ADMITTANCE sign our only indication he is where he should not be.
The workers immediately notice him and Nelson does the one thing you should do in this kind of situation. Confidently pretend you are right where you’re supposed to be. He says good morning, compliments them on their work, and encourages them to “keep it up” [Dove: Urban explorers call this “the hi-viz jacket of invisibility” on some forums I frequented a few years ago. (Sometimes the jacket is real, sometimes it’s just a metaphor.)]. [Wing: This works in so many situations. So. Many.] The workers shrug and continue setting up for the day. Nelson walks off through the length of the room, in which we see the lattice metal work over the windows and a very large metal statue head on a rolling wooden platform. Although I cannot identify it – a god/goddess in a wing’d helmet – it could be the head of Hermes. It makes sense. I’ll check the tie-in novel as we go along to see if it’s identified.
And one last deviation before we continue. The movie was produced by Michael Douglas – yes, that Michael Douglas – from a script/story written by Peter Filardi, whom based the story on the near-death experience of a friend. There, that completes my housekeeping duties. On with the recap.
We move away from Nelson retreating to what appears to be a care facility. At first we see an older man, grey beard and watery eyes, listening as a woman speaks. Another younger woman with curly blonde hair, listens intently to the woman in the hospital bed recount her experience of dying and what happened as she left her body. (I’m pointing this out because not only can I, but it’s another case of Schumacher working with the same actors again and again. The woman speaking is actress Beth Grant. She appears in Speed – the woman who tries to get off the bus and dies – and played the mother character to Sutherland’s Freddie Lee Cobb in A Time to Kill, which Oliver Platt was also in.) [Dove: She’s also the teacher that locks Andy Barclay in his classroom in Child’s Play 2. And she does not age. She has been that age forever. And still is now.]
Across from the patient telling the story sits a young auburn-haired woman, scribbling intently in a notebook, wearing thick glasses. Meet Rachel Manus, med student, who takes work in the hospital rehab / care facility. She looks over her shoulder to make sure no one’s coming, as the patient continues her “out of body” story. Rachel squeezes her hand as she finishes, being the compassionate one of the group.
The elderly gentleman announces he was “legally” dead for four and a half minutes but did not experience a tunnel or see a light. The young blonde interrupts him and counters she saw a tunnel. He goes on to explain about a garden but the young blonde talks over him, much to his and my annoyance. Teri needs to have her meds adjusted, Rachael says. [JC: Teri needs to learn some goddamn manners, I say.] [Dove: I could never work out whether that was Rachael’s medical opinion or some tone-deaf sass. Either way, not cool.] [Wing: Fuck you, Rachael.]
A loud whistle breaks up the party, a signal for Rachel to quit talking to patients about near-death experiences and get back to work. An older woman joins her and warns her there was a lot of trouble in the ER today so Rachel better watch her ass. Rachel dodges the question about why she’s always asking patients about death.
ON TO CLASS!
Class, as it were, is held in a very large round room. On the slabs are cadavers, covered in gauzy material to obscure their faces and preserve some modesty. This is pretty accurate, or at least it was. (I’d highly recommend Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, if you want to know more. Hell, any of her books, really, as they are all fantastic.) Steckle has been describing arthritis as we move around the cadaver. Nelson inserts the blade of a scalpel into the ball of the cadaver’s foot (in the tie-in novel they are carving a game of tic-tac-toe into the foot, no lie) and reminds Steckle to bring all his talent tonight. Well, Steckle is having second thoughts about that. He wants to decline on moral grounds.
“Isn’t there enough atrocity in the world without your own little horror?” Steckle asks.
Nelson promptly argues, “When did truth and knowledge become a horror?” before flattering the fuck out of Steckle. At least Steckle chokes on a laugh, knowing Nelson is playing to his ego.
[Wing: Well, truth and knowledge can be pursued in horrors. Examples: Bodies…The Exhibition is an intriguing look at human bodies broken down into pieces, but there is understandable controversy around the source of the cadavers. Science is built on racism and the use of Black bodies for research without permission. Mental health treatment included terrible experimentation.]
We see Rachel walking quickly into the room, late. She takes her place beside her designated cadaver, examining her tools. And here we meet Joey Hurley (William Baldwin) who greets her before immediately asking if she’s dating anyone. Ugh. Rachel deflects Joe by pointing at something in the exposed digestive system of the cadaver. Joe rattles off the answer, continuing to pester her.
We see Nelson, scowling, from the shadows, as he and Steckle work on their own assigned cadaver. (This is a prime example of how a simple facial expression can take on multi-level meaning when Sutherland does it. I love it!)
Joe is telling Rachel it’s great to make conversation and be open. She demands he identify again, which he does in almost a backhanded dismissive way. That’s when he goes in for the kill. He’s heard all the nicknames and rumors about Rachel but he’s personally sure she’s not frigid or repressed. [JC: Joe takes his negging very seriously. Ugh, indeed.] To cap it off, he lifts the gauze and exposes the cadaver’s male genitalia. “Identify?”
“YOUR BRAINS.” snaps Rachael.
(Yes, we all hate Joe. It doesn’t get better, it only gets worse.)
Joe, unfazed, asks if Rachel wants to come to his place, so they can “study”. Me, I would have stabbed him with a scalpel. Rachel doesn’t get a chance to do so, or even knee him in the balls, as here comes Nelson. He politely informs Joe he needs a word with Dr Manus, pulling her to the side of the room. Yay.
But it’s only because of Nelson’s self-serving interests. Rachel reminds him she already said no to his experiment. He counters he’s secured Steckle and Joe, “two of the top G.P.A.s in the school”, and all Rachel has to do is handle injections and the I.V. Sure, easy. “I have no interest in watching you kill yourself,” Rachel snaps.
“I think you do,” Nelson counters in a very confident manner. Because, duh, she does. Rachel doesn’t have a chance to answer; the professor enters and announces the exam will be scaled, with only three As given though the rest of the letter grades down to four Fs. The students groan, as it’s clear who will be vying for the three As. “Piece of cake!” Steckle crows.
Post-exam, in the men’s locker room, Nelson leads the way as Joey and Steckle trail behind, espousing on how there’s many students with the ability to perform an experiment such as this but not the nerve. Steckle scoffs but Joe taunts Nelson, saying it’ll be dramatic. Nelson will cry and faint, “puke at best” but Joe doesn’t believe Nelson has the balls to go through with this.
Nelson replies, “You just bring the equipment. I’ll bring my balls.” COMPLETE WITH TRADEMARKED SUTHERLAND SMIRK HELLO I MISSED YOU. [Dove: One of my favourite sassy lines in the movie.]
That’s when a student appears and promptly asks Nelson: “Did you, uh, hear about Labraccio?”
SMASH CUT to Labraccio throwing a duffel bag out the second storey window, landing it at Nelson’s feet. Nelson chides him that he’s only been suspended for four months and it won’t affect his scholarship. Labraccio doesn’t care. He’s quitting! He proceeds to rappel down the side of his building. Kinda dramatic, eh, Dave? [JC: I love it. Labraccio rappelling down the side of a building for no goddamn reason is just *chef’s kiss*] [bat: Also symbolic of Labraccio being at the top of the pack skills-wise in the group and coming down to their level to impart his gifts.] [Wing: I’m pretty sure a 4-month suspension absolutely would affect his scholarship, Nelson.] Nelson continues to harangue Labraccio, saying he’s the best student at the school and they’re not going to let him walk away.
Then he goes in for the kill. Nelson tells Labraccio he was wrong to do what he did. Labraccio flips out, reminding Nelson the woman was dying, what would he have done?
Nelson deflects, saying Labraccio is taking this personally and the school is only making an example of Labraccio to cover its ass insurance-wise. (Please note that Nelson does not answer Labraccio’s question. Speaks volumes.) Labraccio insists he doesn’t care, he’d make the same decision, but he’s quitting for good now.
So, Nelson being Nelson, appeals to Labraccio’s moral authority. He reminds Labraccio that this is exactly why he needs him to attend the experiment. Labraccio says although there’s people he’d like to kill, Nelson is not currently one of them.
“Hey, I don’t want to die,” Nelson counters. He wants to come back with all the answers, to both life and death. Nelson explains he can get to death with the others but Labraccio is key to his return to the land of the living. “I need you to bring me back, please.” Wow, way to pressure the guy, Nelson.
Seriously, I could write a paper on how manipulative Nelson is and all the methods he uses, calculating what works on each of his “friends” and how he wields his words to best effect. It’s really fascinating. [JC: I know J.K. Rowling being J.K. Rowling has pretty much ruined Harry Potter at this point, but I couldn’t help thinking that Nelson is definitely a Slytherin.] [bat: You’re right. He’s smart but not smart enough to be a Ravenclaw. Slytherin would snatch him up in half a heartbeat. And Labraccio is totally Gryffindor.] [Wing: I don’t know about not being smart enough to be in Ravenclaw. It’s more like he’s ruthless and ambitious enough to overwhelm that intelligence.]
Labraccio refuses. Tactic fail.
Nelson immediately gets huffy, like a child who’s toy was taken away, upbraiding Labraccio to walk away and go “climb a mountain”, that he no longer understands him. How he can burn his medical career on a complete stranger but turn his back on a friend? Labraccio just gives Nelson a look, untying the straps on the canvas roof of his Army surplus truck.
Knowing that was the wrong tactic, Nelson switches gears, goes into apology mode. (THIS CHARACTER IS A WORK OF ART!) He goes back to appealing to Labraccio’s need to help others, lamenting his chances of return being slim if Labraccio doesn’t help. “So don’t do it,” Labraccio growls.
Nelson scoffs, walking away, pausing to ask, “What if it works?” (I immediately swoon and die. Damn it, it’s the eyebrow thing. Yes, make fun of me. [JC: Nah, I get it. A good eyebrow is a powerful thing.]) As Nelson walks away, Labraccio manages a smile. Face it, he’s intrigued but is it enough to secure him participating?
Back to Rachel, who is on shift in the ward, tending to patients. She pushes a cart over towards a row of beds, stopping at one with a very elderly woman in it. In the next bed is Teri, listening to a Walkman, surrounded by huge bouquets of flowers, Mylar balloons, and teddy bears. Rachel steps over and swipes a bouquet of roses, setting it on the nightstand beside the elderly woman, smiling.
The elderly woman worries the bed clothes between her fists, telling Rachel she doesn’t want to be buried on a Saturday, it costs $150 dollars extra for that. Rachel attempts to comfort her, saying she’s doing better, tucking the sheets in. The old lady isn’t buying it and Rachel knows her words are hollow.
A church bell rings. We smash cut to what appears to be an off-campus flat. On the lower floor, a skeleton sits at a desk, a cigar stuck in between its teeth. The flat is messy and there are posters on the glass block wall of…. uhhhh… Nixon? I can’t identify the other two, I’m old but not that old. They read “SEX” “DRUGS” “ROCK & ROLL” under the images. We hear the sounds of sex. The shot floats to the loft level, revealing Joe plowing an unknown woman. He’s working hard or hardly working.
The phone rings. Joe’s busy. He looks up with a knowing smile, as the shot changes to reveal he has placed a handheld camcorder in the crotch of the beams that hold up the ceiling. This fucking pervert is recording this sexual encounter. Yeah. This was bad then, it’s still bad now. I would go off on a tangent about this character, whom I have always hated, because most of me thinks the character is worthless and adds nothing to this story. Now that I am older, I can see the message the writer was trying to impart but still, I hate this whole arc.
The view flips to what the camcorder is filming, the image turning a grainy black and white. Joe works himself for the camera, which basically proves he doesn’t care who he’s fucking, he just likes to watch himself fucking. Seriously, this scene has always made me want to throw up since the very first time I watched this film. [JC: I have never cared for William Baldwin. This . . . isn’t helping.] [Dove: I’ve only seen this and the firefighter movie he was in, but isn’t this his whole acting rage? Sexy dude who has sex? Might explain why his brothers are getting more work now they’re all older.]
The answering machine switches on. (Remember those?) Nelson’s voice comes on the line. He knows Joe is home. He reminds him to not be late and not forget the camera. “What camera?” the blonde below Joe asks, alarmed. [Wing: Take his balls, woman. And then the camera.]
SMASH CUT TO NELSON. (Thank god.) Nelson’s apartment is immaculately empty and clean, and oh so very white. It’s literally the opposite of my own home, void of life and so minimalist, only the bare necessities of life filling the huge space. The windows are fucking killer, tho. Like, my god. But seriously, I would lose my mind in a space that has no color. I can’t stand blank white walls. [Dove: I cannot comprehend how anyone can live in a space (such a huge space) with nothing beyond a bed in it (and some books in the recessed shelves). WHERE IS EVERYTHING?] [Wing: It’s empty. Like his soul.]
ANYWAY. Nelson hangs up and we hear a computer printer working, as he walks into the bedroom. Everything is pristine and immaculate and I don’t know whether to enjoy it or freak out. Nelson comes to stand in front of a mirror, staring at his reflection, clearly contemplating what he’s about to attempt. At this point, he is too self-assured to back out.
Here we go.
Smash cut to a sweeping side pan of the Taft building, the world dark, the flickering round yellow lights of the construction barriers flashing warning away anyone who comes near. Not just for the fact that the area isn’t safe, but also because five medical students are about to play god. Weird angled shots of statues who watch in silent testament, never to reveal what they have seen. Another shot of the fight between Death and Aesculapius, which the tie-in novel says is located inside the Taft building. Who will win tonight? (I LOVE SYMBOLISM!)
The music changes from a choir to something that sounds like it belongs in a heist movie. Steckle appears from behind the giant head of the statue, pushing a bunch of respiratory equipment. The room is dark and he moves swiftly but quietly, disappearing behind the plastic sheet that hangs behind the NO ADMITTANCE sign.
He enters a smaller room, breathing hard, ever alert to any sign of another’s presence. There is a clatter, sending Steckle to hide behind the respiratory equipment. It’s just Joe, who can’t fucking handle moving the gurney into place. “Ah, the bed,” Steckle snarks, joining his classmate. “Thank God he called a specialist.”
Seriously, Platt always gets such wonderful lines! [JC: His whole reason for being here is to snark. Hey, just like me!]
Steckle aids Joe in rolling the gurney into yet another room – hereafter referred to as the Dog Lab because that’s what it’s called in the tie-in novel – chiding his best friend that he thought Joe would grow up after becoming engaged. (Uhhh, I should add that it is explained in the tie-in novel that Joe and Steckle have been friends from childhood, Joe being the leader and Steckle the follower. Nelson picked them for the experiment because he knew between the two of them, everything would be documented between camcorder and cassette recorder. And the fact that Joe is totally unscrupulous and Steckle is a walking medical encyclopedia.) Joe counters that he’s “working things out” (sure) and only recording a few last adventures before resigning himself to a life of monogamy.
“The words ‘pussy marauder’ do pop into mind occasionally.” Steckle, always with the best witty rejoinders!
Both finally manage to get the gurney into the Dog Lab, which is lit very dimly and is full of construction equipment. Steckle immediately freaks out, wondering why he’s agreed, that this could kill his medical career. Joe is still stuck on Nelson not going through with it.
Well, the balls just arrived.
Nelson tells Steckle to not touch the light switch, as the lights will draw attention from security. He instructs them to set the equipment up over the grate, having brought in another rolling cart of equipment himself. Joe can’t believe they’re going through with this.
I have so many questions about how medical students stole ALL THAT MEDICAL EQUIPMENT and casually transported it to an empty building being renovated, without being seen and/or caught. I realize that it was a different time and not like it is, 30 years later, but c’mon. That’s a fuckton of expensive equipment, plus all the vials of injections, and I don’t know, how does a crash cart go missing without someone asking questions??
YES IT’S A MOVIE, I KNOW THAT, DISBELIEF BACK TO BEING SUSPENDED.
WARNING: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME OR USE THE “TECHNIQUES” DESCRIBED AS FOLLOWS. THIS IS A FUCKING MOVIE AND SHOULD NOT BE ATTEMPTED BY ANYONE.
From this point on, Nelson describes how this experiment is supposed to work. It’s a bunch of medical jargon spoken in a calm but rapid manner. I will summarize. (Oh good god I’ve never researched this; now that I have, I’m going to laugh myself to death.)
Basically, Nelson wants his classmates to euthanize him like a dog.
He gives the instructions that they are to take him “down” using 20cc Sodium Pentothal (which is a rapid-onset short-acting barbiturate general anesthetic commonly used in veterinary euthanasia) and nitrous oxide, while using a refrigerated blanket to lower his body temperature. There is chilled 5DW in the cooler = 5% glucose in water, aka SUGAR WATER – to be given in the I.V. When body temp hits 86 degrees, they are to shock his heart with 200 joules – the lowest setting used to defibrillate someone in cardiac arrest – to make it stop beating. When “the heart is dead”, they are to remove the nitrous oxide mask. From that point, when the EEG machine FLATLINES that means Nelson will be “exploring” because he will be legally brain dead.
Y’know, this all sounds fucking cool and mysterious when it’s being recited in the film but actually looking it up and understanding it, I’m crying with laughter at this level of basic stupid. Yes, it would “work” but I can’t imagine being a medical professional and watching this film and taking it seriously based on this scene. [Wing: Well, if it’s anything like me watching a legal drama, it’s less taking it seriously and more just not watching it at all. (I avoid legal dramas for the most part.) Or throwing things at the screen and shouting about the inaccuracies, if my litigation friends are an example.]
Shorter summation: euthanasia Nelson, shock his heart til it stops, let his brain die, then bring him back. After 30 seconds, which gives him about a minute in death give or take, they’re to flip the warming blanket on and bring him up to 93 degrees – slowly! – inject 1cc of adrenaline, wait a full minute, then shock him with the defibrillator. (Funny enough, they don’t really explain the how of bringing him back. At least not in full detail. I guess they just treat it as a normal patient who’s gone into full cardiac arrest / flatline and use the standard life saving measures used in that case. What a cop out.)
Joe and Steckle are gobsmacked and also demand to know where Rachel is, since they can’t handle all this between the two of them. Nelson doesn’t answer, just says he’ll ready the injections.
Everything will go according to plan. Nelson smiles as he readies the injections. Rachael appears, announcing he’ll come back with brain damage. Nelson will resemble a “Cabbage Patch Doll”, she says. Nelson counters it’s not happening if his body is held at 86 degrees. He taps the air from the needle, asking Rachel pointedly if she’ll handle the injections. After a beat, Rachel nods.
STECKLE HAS QUESTIONS. He wants to know, simply, why Nelson is doing this. (Well, Steckle, the tie-in novel would tell you exactly why but I don’t want to spoil that for Dove, since she went to all the trouble of finding a copy. Really, the movie explains it as the story unfolds but not as in detail as the novelization does. At some point I will be unable to avoid pulling stuff in to give better explanation but I’m doing my best to leave out what I can.)
Nelson just wants to see what’s out there beyond death. He says philosophy and religion have failed to answer the question so now it’s time for the physical science to gain answers. Okay. I mean, sort of. He has reasons. A real big reason, but let’s let the movie reveal that.
“I think mankind deserves to know.”
“So you’re doing this for mankind?”
Yeah, nobody believes you, Nelson. And here’s the letter Nelson printed out in his apartment, which legally absolves the others in case, you know, Nelson doesn’t survive this experiment. Joe snatches it and starts to look it over, while Steckle hits the nail on the head: “This isn’t for mankind! This is for Nelson! Why do I suddenly see on 60 Minutes, sandwiched between Andy Rooney and a Subaru commercial?? Tonight! A brilliant young medical student who dared to experience death and come back!”
Damn it, I love you so much, Oliver Platt. [Dove: Same. The dude is awesome. He brings the snark to anything he’s involved in. Except 2012. Nobody could save the human part of that movie. The disaster part was pretty epic though.]
Okay, so, while Steckle is severely dressing Nelson’s plan down as the egotistical and self-serving plan that it is, Nelson is… undressing. I tend to, um, lose coherent thought at this point. Funny how that is. Oh, for a time machine.
So, uh, um… Nelson tries to counter that “Fame is inevitable.” But Rachel objects that that is the wrong reason for doing this. I think I’m drooling. To distract them back to the task at hand, and I just noticed that the ridiculously expensive watch Nelson was wearing has been removed, Nelson instructs them to help him finish applying the electrodes.
I’d also like to point out that around his neck is a simple chain with a gold cross. Which, considering how much Catholic iconography is in this film, kind of fits? Honestly, and I could be wrong here, the character of Nelson is not shown to be very religious but it is part of his background. I think, though, wouldn’t it have been wise to remove it? He took off the watch. Why leave the chain on? Someone explain??
[Dove: This bugged the hell out of me. When I had my hip replaced, I was told to remove all metal jewellery. I removed everything but my earrings, because they are a bastard to close. Someone saw and told me to remove them as well. Then she asked if I had any other piercings. Hidden piercings. Because they needed to come out too. (I didn’t, btw, I had a plastic stud in my tongue.) I asked why, and she gave me a vague answer along the lines of “Blanket rule. Health and safety.” And then I figured out. If they needed to use anything with an electrical current on me for any reason, I may end up with burns or the metal jewellery could cause issues with it. You’d think a medical student might consider that.]
[JC: bat, I know you’re distracted by shirtless Sutherland, but can we talk about whatever the fuck this thing is? Because that’s what’s got me distracted.] [Dove: Foreshadowing of the Silent Hill: Revelations scene?]
[bat: Huh? *blinks though lust-filled haze* Uh, I’ve googled that but never seem to hit upon the right combination of words to give me an answer. I’ve always assumed it is for the restoration work, just a weird wall box to make sure the gloves don’t get contaminated or cross contaminate anything else. It could also be some kind of (lead?) shield where you’re protected but can use the gloves to work on whatever. That’s the best I got.]
Climbing onto the gurney, the work light that Nelson hung from the I.V. pole shines what looks like a target onto his bare back. Rachel helps him remove his shoes while Steckle reads the letter in the moonlight shining in from the window. [Wing: Best way to read a legal document, when you can barely see it.] Nelson finishing applying the the electrode to his wrist, asking for nitrous oxide, so he can go out with a laugh. No one’s laughing, Nelson. Not even you.
Joe switches on the electric blanket, covering Nelson, cooling him down to 86 degrees. “We’re all professionals. I’m sure this will go very smoothly,” Nelson announces.
“Nelson, if you die, can I have your apartment?” Joe asks. Nelson is totally, abruptly, taken aback. “It was a joke!” Joe chuckles. No one is laughing. “One minute! Don’t be late,” Nelson orders, as Rachel finishes applying the electrodes.
Joe turns to get his camcorder and start filming. Nelson makes Rachel promise she will go through with the full experiment. Rachel only nods. She moves to place the nitrous oxide mask on him, Nelson stopping her by asking, “What, no kiss goodbye?” Oh don’t you start now, too, Nelson.
“I’ll see you soon, ” Rachel tells him, placing the mask on his face. Well, shot down, Nelson. You deserved that.
Joe starts filming, everything turns grainy black and white. Steckle comes over, announcing the letter Nelson gave them means shit and begging Rachel and Joe to stop. “Let him sleep it off! He’ll have a wet dream and think he went to heaven, okay!” Joe agrees and stops filming. Rachel announces now she knows why she’s here. They’re finishing the experiment.
Steckle starts to leave, Joe questioning Rachel if she’s willing to risk her career and future just so Nelson gets famous. Before she can answer, Steckle hears someone coming. He panics.
It’s just Labraccio, striding in like he’s cock of the walk, nothing to lose now. “Is he dead?” he asks, first thing. Nope, sleeping. Rachel is rubbing the paddles of the defibrillator together to ready them. Steckle thinks Labraccio is here to talk sense into everyone. “I’ll do it,” Labraccio tells Rachel, whipping off his jacket.
Rachel asks if Labraccio is taking over. “I’ve got nothing to lose,” he replies. Which is true. Steckle points out he could lose Nelson’s life. (me: WHEN THE FUCK DID THEY GIVE NELSON THE INJECTIONS?? THAT WASN’T SHOWN!) Labraccio insists he can bring Nelson back. Hello, ego! Rachel complains that she could have totally done all this without Labraccio. Probably? Maybe? I dunno.
“NO!” Steckle objects, as the cooling blanket registers 86 degrees.
And with that, Labraccio yells, “CLEAR!” and shocks the fuck out of Nelson.
Success. Nelson is in asystole, as evidenced by the flat line on the heart monitor. Steckle and Joe object to everything happening, Steckle adding he did not come to medical school to murder his classmates, “no matter how deranged they might be!”
“Flatline!” Rachel cries, removing the nitrous oxide mask as the lines on the monitor flatten out. Slowly, the waves on the EEG grow smaller and less in frequency, until they too, stop and flatline as well. “Brain death. Now it’s real.” [Dove: This line feels so awkward. Like it was just filmed for the trailer or something.]
Labraccio orders Joe to start filming. Steckle wants to defib Nelson and try and bring him back. Labraccio tells him to watch the door. Clearly, the group has divided over the experiment. “Are we in the room with a dead man?” Joe asks. (Having recently been in a room with the body of my grandmother, this one hit hard during this viewing. Ouch.)
Rachel starts the countdown. Which, honestly, is far fucking longer than a minute. Movie “time” is always a slippery unit of measurement. Ugh.
Joe begins to film, everything turning grainy black and white, as he zooms in on Nelson’s face. The shot moves closer and closer until everything turns to black and silence.
BAM! An explosion of golden sunlight illuminates a field of yellow flowers, the camera zooming forward over top as though the viewer were flying! The field seems endless as the music becomes upbeat, the viewer feels sucked into the scene, before the camera finally pulls back to reveal a large tree at the edge of a pasture before flying up into the golden sky.
(The first time I watched Flatliners was at the home of my childhood best friend. Her parents were, shall we say, lax about what we were allowed to watch and I finagled my way into getting them to rent the movie. Anyway. They had a two storey living room with a vaulted ceiling and surround sound. The minute this scene kicked in, I nearly fell off the couch, it was so damn loud. I am super sensitive to sudden and/or loud noises, so to this day I will mute the fuck out of this scene until a certain point when I know I can tolerate it again.)
Cut back to grainy black and white camcorder footage of Nelson, dead. Rachel announces the 30 second countdown. Labraccio instructs the heating blanket be turned on. It’s go time.
Back to the golden world. Another point in history, perhaps? The camera flies over the tree, revealing a group of figures running through the green field, the tops of the grass blades glowing golden yellow in the bright summer sunlight. The figures are waving silver streamers as they run, a dog bounding along with them. An idyllic childhood tableau.
In reality, the warming blanket has kicked in and Nelson’s temperature is rising, as Rachel monitors it. Labraccio readies the sodium bicarbonate. (Wait, why are they using an antacid? Huh?) Steckle has sucked it up and joined in, readying the paddles with gel, since Joe is filming the action.
Returning to the three boys and the dog. What more can I say? They’re still waving the damn streamers.
Labraccio pulls down the warming blanket. The defibrillator is charged. Everything is readied. Time to bring Nelson back.
Now back to the dog. I know, I know, this scene is important, but the constant smash cuts back and forth are giving me whiplash. We cut back again to the students, Labraccio rubbing the paddles in preparation.
Okay finally. The flashback – memory – what the fuck ever you wanna call it – focuses on a blond boy in a jeans jacket. Clearly, this is Nelson as a child. Why would he possibly go to this memory? It’s pretty boring.
Steckle notes 93 degrees has been reached. Labraccio moves into position, calls ‘clear!’ and shocks Nelson. The memory changes to darkness, grey skies, the silver streamers waving ominously. The shock has affected things. Nelson is still flatlined. Labraccio orders a charge of 300 jules. Steckle and Joe panic, again. The second defibrillation is administered.
The memory sweeps up into the darkening sky over a scraggly tree. All is not well. Labraccio begins to administer CPR while Rachel pushes the sodium bicarbonate into the I.V. (You know, I’ve already noted they did not show the injections prior to the flatlining, nor did they show the I.V. being inserted. So why would I remotely believe all that was done? Hm?)
Okay, I googled it. I’m nothing if not terribly curious and being that I’m actually taking the time to layout what the fuck they’re doing, why not get real answers. So, yes, sodium bicarbonate is used in emergency treatment to revive cardiac patients. I learned something.)
Rachel “bags” Nelson while Labraccio continues chest compressions. Steckle is having a goddamn meltdown. Joe continues filming. I yawn, bored. [JC: BUT THIS IS IMPORTANT, BAT, YOUR BOY’S LIFE HANGS IN THE BALANCE!] [bat: YEAH YEAH, SHAKE IT OFF, NELSON.]
BACK TO THE IMPORTANT PART. The camera shot gives the viewer the sensation of falling, through multiple branches of the massive tree. Everything is grey and dark, heavy fog draping the branches. The dog barks. There’s this weird windmill of a man sawing logs; I don’t know why that’s in there, but it is. I guess to show it’s windy? Whatever. [Dove: Uh… isn’t there one in Lost Boys as well? Grandpa’s house, before either the big showdown or them circling the house just after Michael has turned? Maybe this is a quirk of Schumacher at the time?] [bat: There’s something similar. They were very popular pieces of yard / folk art once upon a time. It’s a very American thing.]
Nelson is still flatlined. Efforts to revive him are not working. And he was so counting on you, Labraccio. Another shock, this time at 350 joules. Nothing. The shock registers on the monitor before the viewer is sucked into the blue flatline.
We see a young boy, standing alone in a room of concrete pillars. Everything is cast in a blue light/tint that screams “SUPERNATURAL”. We see what appears to be Nelson, though you cannot see his face, walking down a tunnel, the blue light behind him, a staccato sound playing.
Suddenly, the monitor registers. “GOT HIM!” Joe screams. Nelson gasps for air, Rachel scrambles for the oxygen mask. Labraccio pushes epinephrine as Steckle helps get the oxygen mask on Nelson. Everyone goes quiet, staring at Nelson. His eyes begin to blink under the lids. “REM! We’ve got REM!” Labraccio whispers, grinning.
They have brought Nelson back.
Now he’s conscious enough to stare up at Rachel, who asks if he can hear them. He just smiles weakly. Everyone is ecstatic. I mean, really, Joe and Steckle were fucking freaking but now everything’s peachy and successful and all’s forgotten. THEY KILLED A MAN AND SUCCESSFULLY BROUGHT HIM BACK FROM THE DEAD! THEY’RE GONNA BE FAMOUS!
The triumphant music kicks in, a shot of the illuminated Madonna della Strada chapel is shown. Hm, a subtle symbolism of science besting religion? Of man “beating” the Grim Reaper? Joe cheers as the four escort Nelson out of the Taft building, Steckle and Joe supporting him. Rachel and Labraccio lead, getting the back of Labraccio’s truck open. The camera pans up to show the karyatides watching in silence. (God I fucking want to see those in person. Damn it, this movie is so my aesthetic, it hurts.) (ALSO: POINTLESS FORESHADOWING FOR FUN AND PROFIT, AHOY!)
Nelson, for his part, just stares at everything around him like he’s seeing it all for the first time.
Labraccio drives the group into the city, the truck passing under the El. Various characters share looks. Rachel reaches over and adjusts the blanket around Nelson. He smiles but she doesn’t reciprocate. They have zero in common and he’s been to death and back, while she hasn’t.
Now parked outside a mini mart, Steckle peppers Nelson with questions. He can’t give specific answers. Rachel asks about the tunnel with the light at the end. Nope. But something is out there, “it’s comforting.” Labraccio starts taking Nelson’s vitals, tells everybody to back off and get him some fluids. [Wing: So before this moment you didn’t think he might need fluids? Smart, you lot. Very smart.]
“Thanks for saving my life,” Nelson calls after them. Dude. “It was so much fun,” Steckle quips.
(Let’s talk about this ‘life saving’, shall we? Because, apparently, I am all in and sitting here 30 years later with Google at my disposal, I looked some shit up. As I mentioned the, uh, ‘resuscitation’ portion of the experiment is pretty open-ended and not deeply discussed beyond a vague outline: bring the participant back to life. Defibrillation’s purpose to is reset the heart’s own natural electrical state created by its pacemaker cells. You’re really not supposed to use it to kill people by stopping their heart. On the flip side, defibrillation is not to be used when a patient is in asystole – the state that the initial shock sent Nelson in to kill him – so shocking him while he is flatlined makes zero fucking sense. Yes, the life saving techniques used – sodium bicarbonate, CPR, and epinephrine – that’s all legit. But the defibrillation is a goddamn lie. At least at this point in the story.
Also, I learned that, allegedly, Bacon broke one of Sutherland’s ribs during filming. Call me amused. [Wing: If it happened during CPR, it’s not uncommon. You a method actor, Bacon? Really had to put the pressure on?]
Still, post-afterlife adventure, the movie at least portrays Nelson as out of sorts. Not just from what he experienced but from what was physically done to him. From the… three? four? times they defib’d him, he could possibly have skin burns and potentially suffer myocardial necrosis, which would mean he just killed his heart to go explore the afterlife. Quite seriously, the risks and complications majorly outweigh the “knowledge-gathering”. THIS IS WHY IT’S A FUCKIN’ MOVIE.)
“Are you all right, wise one?” Labraccio asks, as he takes Nelson’s blood pressure. Nelson explains he feels like a highly-tuned instrument, clearly hearing the traffic on the lake shore, the hum of the electricity in the street lamps (dude, I hear that all the time and I’ve never flatlined [JC: I’m constantly surprised by people not being able to hear the hum of electricity in things. The lightbulb in our bathroom is noisy as fuck, and somehow Boyfriend has no idea what I’m talking about whenever I mention it.] [bat: My family constantly makes fun of my “dog hearing”. If it makes a noise, I WILL HEAR IT.]), and below that he hears a “dragging sound”. Um. Labraccio doesn’t hear that.
“I not only hear it, I can feel it.” Well, that’s fucking ominous sounding.
Labraccio declares his prognosis excellent and Nelson will look great on 60 Minutes. That show is still around, right? No? Yes? [JC: Yup.] Nelson says this is bigger then that and Labraccio agrees that by the time Nelson is through with shilling the fuck out of himself and his new-found knowledge, “it will be”.
“You’re not buying any of this, are you.”
“Hey, you forgot. I’m an atheist.”
Cue the skepticism. You knew at least one of the characters had to be agnostic or atheist. From all the religious statuary and the fact there’s a Catholic chapel sitting on campus grounds, to the fact that this is set in Chicago which was once very largely Catholic – irony seeping in that in 1990, 35 parishes were closed – and all the characters are native, it would be easy enough to infer that 4 of 5 are Catholic or lapsed Catholic. Trust me, I know this movie, I know what happens, I remember, and thus evidence will back me up.
Leaving Nelson to chill on the tailgate, Labraccio joins the others in the Asian mini mart. For some reason they all stage whisper while discussing Nelson’s state of health. Labraccio notes he’s talking like Lazarus but otherwise fine. Joe crows that’s exactly what they did, brought Nelson back from death. Labraccio counters that they only got lucky.
“I would like to go next,” Rachel announces in a weird, clinical monotone. Joe wants to go, too. He believes they should all share in the fame and infamy. “That’s not what this is about!” Rachel argues. Labraccio says oh, they’ll be famous, monuments about “this high” will be built to them: “Rest in peace!”
That’s when Joe and Rachel get into a bidding war on how long they will flatline. It’s as awkward and weird as it sounds. Rachel bids 1:20, Joe 1:30.
“Or are you just so tragically competitive that you would enter into a bidding war with your lives?!” Thanks, Steckle, unlikely voice of reason! [JC: I have determined that he’s the Hufflepuff. If you’re interested, I’ve also pegged Labraccio as the Gryffindor. Joe is another Slytherin, and I have no idea about Rachel, because her characterization barely exists.] [bat: Way back up there when you Sorted Nelson into Slytherin, I Sorted Labraccio as Gryffindor, so agree. Also agree on Steckle and Joe. Rachel, well, let’s say Ravenclaw. She’s probably not smart enough but it seems her non-personality would fit right in.] [JC: At first I thought Labraccio was Ravenclaw, but things happen later on that made me realize, nope, he’s got the brave, do-the-right-thing thing going on. Also, how dare you insult Ravenclaw, home of my girl Luna Lovegood!] [bat: There are always exceptions to the rule and Luna is one of them. Wasn’t Cho Chang a Ravenclaw? Rachel is basically Cho.] [Dove: I’m just pleased that Steckle is in Hufflepuff with me. The site sorted me into Gryffindor, but I know I’m Hufflepuff.] [Wing: I’ve been sorted into both Slytherin and Gryffindor, since we’re talking Harry Potter houses. Also, fuck you, JKR. Fuck you.]
Joe repeats 1:30. Rachel bows out. Joe crows about it. (Joe always crows about everything. Ugh.) Labraccio is disgusted. “Don’t die to be a celebrity.”
Let’s check on Lazarus, er, Nelson! Who is staring up at the street lights like he’s never seen electric lamps before. He chuckles to himself but then we hear a dragging noise, the rattle of a license tag on a collar. Uh oh. Everything dims and the massive, amazing graffiti on the walls glows in the black light. Skulls and demonic faces surround Nelson. This… is bad.
The dragging sound gets louder. Nelson homes in on it, it’s coming from the alleyway. The camera zooms in on his anguished face. In the alley, a dog appears, crawling, whining pitifully. Its back legs are haphazardly bandaged, clearly injured, leaving the dog unable to walk as it pulls itself along by its front paws. It crawls closer and closer to Nelson, who is illuminated from behind by the same sick blue light seen in his walk through death.
“…Champ?” Nelson quietly inquires, as fog envelops the mangled pup. [JC: Ugh, I hate seeing injured animals. I especially hate this, because the last night of my big dog’s life, she couldn’t move her back legs and was trying so hard to drag herself around like this by her front paws. Poor puppers.] [bat: I’m so sorry, JC. My cousin’s German Shepherd, the last time I saw him, was losing use of his back legs and it was horrible to watch him be so frightened.] [Dove: Any animal in distress is horrible to watch. I kind of look away when Champ’s on the screen.] [Wing: Oh, JC, I’m sorry. When my dad’s previous dog died, she just suddenly couldn’t stand. I had just brought her home from the groomer, and I still have a lot of guilt around it. She was so scared, this tiny little toy poodle.]
The vision fades, reality returns. The blue light disappears, leaving the alley dim and barely illuminated. Nelson looks around wildly. His classmates have returned. Labraccio wants someone to stay with Nelson. Rachel volunteers. Labraccio asks Nelson if he’s okay. He’s hunched up, sweating, looks rattled. “I’d, uh, like to go home.”
Smash cut to Champ running freely through the field of golden yellow flowers, uninjured. We see the same three boys, running, the silver streamers flapping in the breeze. But now there is a fourth boy, in a red hooded sweatshirt, running at the head of the pack. We see young Nelson screaming at him from behind. Boy in red sweatshirt is fleeing the other three. They chase him towards the trees. Everything becomes muted, grey, suspicious. The boys have cornered the fourth at the base of the biggest tree. The view switches to that of someone falling through the branches. We hear Nelson screaming before we see him, looking a lot worse for wear and in different clothing, waving his arms as he falls through the air. There’s a loud snap sound…
…and Rachel awakens from her slumber, having fallen asleep in a chair in Nelson’s bedroom. In bed, Nelson gasps, awakened from his nightmare. Rachel, ever clinical, informs him he was hyperventilating. She places her fingers against his throat to check his pulse. He stares at her as she rattles away about his blood pressure rising over the next 14 hours and his blood supply increasing. Like, what the fuck, woman. [JC: All I could think was, “so he’s going to have a non-stop boner?”] [bat: Imagine going to the ER over that. “Yeah, I had my friends kill and revive me for an experiment and now I can’t get it to go down.” Flatlining! The original Viagra?]
“God, you’re beautiful.” Nelson whispers. (And, at this point, I would certainly say he was not acting in this scene.)
Rachel stares back for a second before telling him to get some rest before moving away from the bed. Nelson grabs her arm, pulling her back. “I bet twenty-four hours ago you didn’t think you’d be spending the night here, did you.”
Dude. Dude. Stop.
“You were lucky last night, Nelson. Don’t push it.” Rachel 1, Nelson 0.
Moving over to Joe – who I hate but I honesty need a break from Nelson – we see the cabinet open and stacks upon stacks of mini camcorder tapes are revealed. Each has a name written on it in bold Sharpie. I count 14, but obviously this is just a small slice in the Joe Hurley Home Library: Sex Tapes Edition™. Don’t worry, you don’t need a bucket to puke in at this point. But… keep it handy…
Joe removes a single tape entitled ENGAGEMENT PARTY and inserts it into the VHS player. As obvious as it gets, it’s a recording of the party celebrating Joe’s engagement to Anne. A guy toasts them wealth and happiness, as Joe sits on his bed, grabbing the telephone. He dials and asks to speak with Anne.
Anne eventually answers and is happy to hear from her fiancee. Joe mentions he’s counting down the days to Thanksgiving break (more on that in a minute) and we move to see Anne in her sorority building, talking on the communal phone. Ha ha, remember those days when only the privileged few had personal phones and long-distance calls were costly??
She complains she needs to transfer to a school closer to Joe’s or get a faster car. (Oh, honey, no.) Joe springs on her that he wonders if they shouldn’t have gotten married over summer break. Anne says her mother wasn’t ready yet. Clearly, this is going to be one of those massive family-driven weddings, ala My Big Fat Greek Wedding, only change it to My Big Fat Irish Catholic Wedding to a Sex Pest.
Joe, if you’ll remember, just jumped at taking a 1:30 walk through death. He gets emotional and starts talking hypothetically. As though something could happen to him. Anne immediately picks up on this and asks what’s wrong. She tells Joe he’s scaring her but Joe is dismissive and brushes off her concern, telling her he loves her and hanging up. Asshole. [Dove: Yeah, that’s not a red flag at all. Anyone who gets that call is going to be like, “Oh, what a nice thing to say!” and just mosey on with their day.]
He watches more of the engagement party, the camera zooming in on the couple as the crowd chants for them to kiss. Obliging the group, they do, and the screen flips to black.
(Okay, I wanna talk about time. We all know “movie time” is fluid and sometimes it is properly denoted but only on a vague level. Per the tie-in novel, the movie opens in mid-October. On a more minute level, it appears that ~24 hours post-Nelson’s trip, Joe is set for his. Whether or not this is the case, I’m not sure. We’ll revisit this in a little while.)
A small grey dot appears in the center of the screen. It grows larger and larger, brighter as we approach it, as if we are rushing towards it. (This scene reminds me of the David Lynch-directed home pregnancy test commercial but that’s just me tangling things that are visually similar.)
As the circle gets larger, it takes on a wavy, water-y quality and looks, well, fleshy. Now we’re in water, a woman walking into it, before the camera pans up to show what is apparently a doctor. Yes, as you may have guessed it, Joe is remembering his own birth.
The image stays grey, as we’re shown an extreme close up of a breast and nipple. Yep, Joe loved breast feeding. Now a woman’s mouth is talking and cooing, making faces as the camera backs away, to show she’s waving a rattle. It’s Joe’s mom.
We’re shown two older woman in fancy dresses, leaning over and admiring baby Joe, ample cleavage on display. SENSE A THEME?
Adolescent Joe is admiring young girls in summer clothing, now there’s a teen girl in a summer dress that’s straining to cover her shoulders. Female hands wave, as the images become more and more layered. Let’s just sum this up: Joe pretty much everything he finds arousing when looking at women.
Suddenly we see the side of Joe’s face. A hand strokes along his jaw as the image shifts to color. It’s Rachel. Joe is flatlined. We see Joe’s bare chest, upon which are placed the paddles. He is defib’d. Nothing.
“Starting CPR.” Nelson announces, commencing chest compressions as Steckle pushes epinephrine. Nothing is working. Rachel notes the time is now 1:45. Nelson is starting to panic. Labraccio demands Nelson let him try. Huh. So this is the Nelson show and it’s rapidly failing. Rachel yells they’re running out of time. Nelson won’t stand down. Steckle and Rachel vote for Labraccio to take over.
Nelson throws a fucking fit, literally slamming his fist repeatedly into the center of Joe’s chest while screaming at the corpse. Yeah, great bedside manner here. Labraccio physically shoves Nelson out of the way, Nelson staring daggers as Labraccio begins chest compressions.
Yeah, second experiment is going well.
Nelson stalks off as Rachel assists Labraccio. Meanwhile, Joe is moving into more explicit imagery of women he’s enjoyed in his conquest of “figuring things out”. Most of this is scantily-clad bodies and hyper-sexualized imagery/nudity. We eventually see a bunch of women’s faces as the images start speeding past as though Joe is being sucked back into reality.
With a deep cough, Joe has returned. He doesn’t crash back into the land of the living as hard as Nelson did but this is probably due to the fact that everyone learned how this is supposed to go on Nelson.
Nelson, for his part, looks half relieved that Joe is revived. He does not rejoin his classmates, standing off by himself. Steckle is ecstatic as he speaks into the cassette recorder. “CPR successful. Hurley lives!” [JC: . . . yay . . . ?]
Rachel and Labraccio share a glance, Rachel actually sort of smiling. Uh oh. Something’s brewing between them. They’ve brought back two men in two (?) nights. Insert shot of Nelson LOOKING DEJECTED. (Dude, stop.)
Smash cut to a(n all night?) diner, the camera slowly snaking its way past tables with the chairs inverted and placed on top. [Dove: This place just looks like a set. It might be a British/USA thing, but I have never seen an eatery laid out like this with so much dead space (yes, I know there could be more tables during busy periods, but why put them away if it’s all-night?). This location/set is so off that it bugs me. Anyone else feel that?] [bat: It’s probably part of the “banquet”, “party” or “large gathering” room some restaurants used to have. Our favorite Chinese restaurant had a MASSIVE room in the middle of the building for this type of thing. So it’s not unusual to me.] [Wing: Dove, remember that we have lots of land here. There are restaurants with tight seating, and Chicago has a bunch, but I’ve also seen restaurants with big, almost empty rooms or lots of space between tables.] The Deathstronaughts are peppering Joe with questions, far more eagerly than the did Nelson. Everyone seems to have forgotten it was difficult to bring Nelson back, but harder to bring back Joe. Hm.
Joe, for his part, is holding court, the absolute center of attention. While it may have been wondrous that Nelson went first, he’s on his slow slide out of the limelight. Let’s watch how badly he reacts to this!
Describing his trip as “great”, Labraccio is already scoffing and Nelson is already trying to figure how the trips differed. Only Steckle and Rachel are fully invested, fully interested in Joe’s description. And boy, the dude doesn’t have a way with words. “It’s difficult to explain.”
You just went through some weird long-form pseudo-wet dream, stop trying to make it something it isn’t. (Have I mentioned how much I hate Joe? Just reminding you.)
For his part, Labraccio is acting like the full armchair atheist he is. He’s literally missing the fedora and keyboard but he’s portrayed by Kevin Bacon so. Joe defends Nelson’s… theory?… well, no, that’s not right, more like religion’s belief/tenant that there is something out there beyond death. Nelson half snarls, “Absolutely.” with a self-righteous tone, while picking up his bottomless cup of coffee as the cigarette burns down between his fingers. Whatever, Sutherland makes it work.
And that’s when Joe says his experience was strange, almost “erotic”.
“He’s dead and he gets laid,” Steckle quips into his cassette recorder.
Nelson isn’t having this. “What do you mean, erotic?!” Joe backpedals, saying it wasn’t casually, “wantonly” sexual by any means. Uh huh. Steckle cracks jokes, we all know Joe is a goddamn pussy marauder. At this point, Rachel has about had it with the “boys club”, as it were. I don’t blame her. For once we agree on something.
Joe describes that he was being guided by something friendly and feminine. Uh huh.
Steckle takes it further, describing (for lack of a better term) ‘flatlining’ as the conquest of their generation. (About that: you are looking at half a cast of Boomers and the other half is Gen X. Once again, Sutherland was the youngest, while Bacon was born in 1958. The book pegs them all around age 26 – Sutherland and Roberts both turned 22 during filming, Bacon was 31, Platt was 29 (by the by, his character was noted to be 24 in the tie-in novel) and Baldwin was the only one actually 26.)
Listing off the sea, America, the West, the moon, the ‘inner’ journey via drugs/LSD, a real dated reference to Shirley MacLaine and her claims of past lives (aka the ‘outer’ journey), and finally, this, aka ‘flatlining’, which is theirs.
“Well, we did have disco,” Labraccio quips.
I would be remiss to not note that during Steckle’s summation of conquests, Labraccio and Rachel share a look that turns into a smile. They share amusement at Steckle’s rambling, though Rachel briefly flicks her gaze at Nelson, who is fuming silently. He’s also looking half incredulously at Steckle, who has co-opted Nelson’s experiment into a group project.
THIS IS WHY YOU NEVER INVOLVE OTHER PEOPLE, NELSON.
“We have finally found something worthwhile to upstage those fucking Baby Boomers!” Steckle crows as the waitress wanders in, a middle-aged grey-haired woman in a uniform and apron. “Watch your mouths,” she snaps at Steckle.
Nelson whips off his glasses and points them at the others. “I found something. Let’s not forget that.” Oh honey, you are already on minute 14 and 58 seconds.
“I came back from the dead tonight,” Joe tells the waitress in a spooky tone. “Doesn’t surprise me, we had Elvis in here last night.” She responds in a no-nonsense way. She’s probably seen it all. Only Rachel and Labraccio have noted Nelson’s jealousy and heard him claiming all the credit. Remember how he failed at bringing Joe back and had to be pushed out of the way? Yeah, we all remember that, Nelson.
Rachel asks if Joe had difficulty coming back to life. He says not that he remembers. This sets Labraccio off. Joe can remember everything else but not that? “I think you guys are full of shit,” Labraccio announces.
It gets a chuckle out of Nelson, who moves the next piece on his private chessboard. He agrees with Labraccio, saying he wouldn’t believe anyone who claimed to have come back from the dead. “Unless I’d been there,” he finishes, staring Labraccio down. “So what about it, Dave?”
“Yeah, you’re an atheist!” Joe chimes in, showing how utterly easily it is to manipulate these people. “I’m going next!” Rachel interrupts, which kind of throws a wrench in Nelson’s manipulation but let’s watch it work out.
“Wait a minute! Nobody is going next!” Labraccio declares, as Nelson takes a drag off his cigarette and just smiles, knowing the battle has begun. Labraccio lectures the others about how there is nothing out there and they only saw what they wanted to see. He tells them to give this up, it’s too dangerous.
Nelson starts to argue with Labraccio but Rachel interrupts, saying they can’t turn back, bidding a total time of 1:50. Labraccio calmly replies, “Two minutes.” Steckle calls him out but Labraccio has changed his mind. “Two ten,” Rachel snarks back. “Two twenty,” Labraccio outbids her. Rachel apparently wants to go but not that badly. “Looks like we found a winner,” Nelson, ever the charmer, rubs the loss in her face.
Rachel grabs her coat and leaves the diner. “Enjoying yourself, Nelson?” Labraccio snaps, shoving back in his chair, letting it fall over as he takes off after Rachel.
Calmly stubbing his cigarette out, Nelson inquires if Joe had any negative happen during his experience. Joe says nope. Nelson feigns relief. And I do mean feigns. This means seeing his dead dog is not a good thing and Nelson is back at square one in the ‘what the hell is going on?!’ department.
Outside, Labraccio has to jog to catch up to Rachel, who thinks it’s perfectly fine to wander around Chicago alone at night. Yeah, right here, you know this is fiction. (Also, I typically fast-forward or ignore this scene, because there is no eye candy for me.) Rachel is mad at Labraccio, asking if he was “white knighting” or trying to show her up.
“What makes you think everything is all about you?” Labraccio asks, a chuckle in his tone. OH LET’S SEE. YOU STARE AT HER, NELSON STARES AT HER, EVERY TIME SHE POSITS GOING INTO DEATH ONE, A MAN SHUTS HER DOWN. Oh god why am I defending Rachel?! Rachel just seems to think no one wants her to participate. Labraccio counters that there’s constant speculation about her; who she is, why she’s obsessed with death, why she doesn’t date, why she wants to die.
(I was waiting for a place to bring this up and now seems just as good a time as any. What appears to have been a copy of the original first version of the film, entitled “The Flatliners“, showed up on eBay recently. Between the scanned pages and some Googling, I feel confident in saying that this original version was utter bullshit. It was set in Boston – Filardi’s hometown – and the focus was more on Rachel Kinburg. Joe’s characterization was closer to what became Nelson’s, but Rachel was the one who experienced the worst of the aftermath after flatlining. Labraccio was similar to what’s in the final version, and Steckle is mentioned. There are scenes set in a psych ward where Rachel is held. [JC: Ohhh . . . I bet that was just great.] [bat: Just reading the pages very much pissed me off, so I can only imagine how CAPSLOCK RAGE I would have been if it had been filmed. It would certainly not be one of my holiest of holy movies.] Unfortunately, there’s few pages scanned and the internet is sometimes lacking when it comes to movies from 30 years ago. That said, the 2017 remake/reboot put a woman in as the main lead, so clearly someone took notes from the original script. Let me put it this way: Rachel could have been a strong and interesting character, had any other actress portrayed her. But no, we get Roberts, who has ability – see Steel Magnolias – but she comes off as weak-willed and wishy-washy and a strange composite of nothing against the stronger male characters. And this is not me being mean because I don’t like her. Most reviewers complained about it back in 1990, too. It’s hard to imagine Rachel Kinburg, who screams and swears at the nurse to bring her a phone in the psych ward, turning into Rachel Manus, fragile and tragic mother-like figure. Someone fucked up.)
Rachel is right to take offense to Labraccio bringing up the thorny subject of her being the center of constant speculation. This is another prime example of how Labraccio is the de facto leader of the group: we saw it when Nelson went to see him and insisted that Labraccio was the one who would bring him back. We’ve seen Labraccio in action, making life and death decisions, shoving Nelson out of the way when Joe wasn’t responding to resuscitation efforts. Whether or not this was because Bacon was 31 or the fact that it’s just how the script was written, I’m not sure. I’d lean towards it being a combo.
Sutherland, by proxy of Nelson, is the face and the driving force of the film. But the heart, the “wise elder” and leader of the group is Bacon/Labraccio. Thankfully, blessedly, both actors work so well together, it is enjoyable and comes off believable.
I keep digressing but god this scene is so boring.
Labraccio basically goes on to A) flatter Rachel, B) hit on her, and C) makes it sound like he’s the most knowledgeable and therefore trustworthy of the four males she’s locked into this experiment with. In many ways, yes. Nelson is an egotistical, narcissistic manipulator with as-yet unexplained psychological issues. Joe is a sex fiend who should probably be chemically castrated. [JC: Only chemically? You’re far more generous than I. I would happily go at his bits with a rusty hacksaw] [bat: I was being polite but I would much rather go about it your way, JC.] Steckle is a nerd driven by a desperate need to feel accomplished in life. Labraccio, at minimum, has shown he cares about people and wants to save them, even if it’s from themselves.
He also explains he views himself as the “control” subject in the experiment. If he flatlines and experiences nothing, then the experiment should end, because that means Nelson and Joe are making it all up. Um, okay, flawed hypothesis but whatever. Rachel gets real animated, yammering on about how people around the world, believers in varying religions/beliefs/philosophies, have all shared similar “near-death” experiences. [JC: Except we’ve seen so far that they haven’t? The garden, the tunnel, Nelson’s field and dogs and other kids, Mr. Joe’s Wild Masturbatory Ride . . . these are not the same things.] Labraccio shrugs it off, chalking it up to chemicals or hormones released when you die. Sure, Dave.
Rachel calls him out on this, says he’s reaching. She asks if he goes and finds something out there? “Then you can kill yourself for as long as you want,” Labraccio answers. (POINTLESS FORESHADOWING FOR FUN AND PROFIT, AHOY!) He hits on her by saying he would feel like he’d miss her, if she died, since he hasn’t known her very long.
(Okay, about that. Nelson tells Rachel he has two of the top G.P.A.s in the school lined up for the experiment, indicating that’s Joe and Steckle. What does that say about Rachel? He only courts her because A) lust and B) everyone seems to know she’s obsessed with death but nothing else. And what does that say about Labraccio? He’s made out to be one of the golden, top tier students but that’s all out the window when he’s suspended. Was he a top student in class or just one of those students who you know is “big man on campus”? Hell, what does this say about Nelson?? Is he top tier? Or is it just the impression we’re given because he dares to “think differently”? Oh my god, stop thinking up more questions you will never have answers to! It’s like My Little Pony ‘N Friends has ruined me by never giving answers!)
Changing tracks, Labraccio asks why she’s obsessed with death. Rachel defends herself by saying it’s a personal interest. And that’s that. Labraccio offers to drive her home but she tells him ‘no thanks’ and takes off around the corner of a building. Well, at least he’s been shut down like Nelson.
SMASH CUT to… else where on the mean streets of Chicago at night. A police car goes speeding by, sirens and lights on, as Nelson walks home through the foggy landscape. He pauses, stopping in the middle of the street to light his cigarette, a hissing sound reminiscent of a massive snake filling the air. Looking up sharply, Nelson finds himself surrounded by cyclists out for a midnight ride. [Dove: The CGI has not aged well and HD is unforgiving, there’s an odd white light around the bike tyres.]
It’s still enough to spook the already on edge Nelson. Pulling his trench coat tighter, he makes his way alone through the rain, shoulders hunched against the wet and cold. [Wing: I don’t think any of them are dressed for Chicago nights in October, but maybe that’s just me and my inability to deal with cold.] Rounding a corner, he takes a short cut through an alley. It is filled with people, mostly homeless, prostitutes [JC: Sex workers is the preferred term, bat!] [bat: Sorry! Was keeping with 90s nomenclature.], dealers and drug addicts gathered around, oil barrel fires lit against the darkness. Some look up at Nelson as he passes by. We hear the ranting and raving of a voice farther down in the alley as Nelson continues to walk slowly, ever mindful that he’s dressed very nicely and would make an easy mark if someone took a mind.
Honestly, this alley seems way too full of people to be realistic, but then again, I have zero experience with alleyways in Chicago.
The woman who is ranting and raving, saying she didn’t take the money, pauses long enough to become coherent. “Right, Nelson?” she asks, causing him to stare in disbelief. “Because in the end, we all know what we’ve done.”
Nelson bolts. Down into the subway.
He moves from a reddened visual to one filling with the sick blue light. Dude, hello, that’s a cue! Reaching the empty platform, the concrete columns stand as silent sentinels, illuminated in blue light. Champ begins to whine from somewhere in the darkness. Nelson pauses long enough to see a flicker of movement, Champ’s shadow looming on the wall, moving away from him.
Stupidly, Nelson runs to where the opposite side of the platform connects, calling for the dog, who we see crawling off into a tunnel. He pauses for a second, just like Luke Skywalker, before plunging into the blue-light of the tunnel.
The narrow path is familiar but doesn’t trigger memories in Nelson, who’s too busy calling for his long-lost dog. For a second we get a deja vu scene, this time clear and obviously Nelson, watching the broken hind quarters of the dog disappear around a sharp corner at the end of the tunnel.
Nelson running into the blue light at the end of the tunnel is irony not lost on me.
There is movement that flickers in the corner, distracting Nelson to a full stop. He’s found a room filled with concrete pillars, blue light bulbs hanging from the ceiling the only illumination. He continues to call for the dog, winding his way through the pillars, obsessed.
Moving into the next row, the camera reveals a young boy standing between the pillars, alone. Wearing a red hooded sweatshirt.
Nelson stares for a long moment before taking a few steps forward, asking what the kid is doing here. He continues to approach, crouching to be nearer to the boy’s height, actual concern in his tone. Nelson asks if the boy is all right, if he’s lost.
(Winces in anticipation; this always hurts.) [JC: Whereas I involuntarily laughed out loud. My reactions to violence are odd sometimes.] [bat: I involuntarily laughed through 90% of 24, so.]
Just when Nelson is at his closest, the boy kicks upward, his foot connecting solidly with Nelson’s crotch. From there out, the boy begins to punch Nelson with unending fury, solidly connecting as Nelson lands on the ground, completely caught off guard and somehow unable to defend himself. The boy pauses long enough for Nelson to look up at him before landing the heaviest blow. Nelson goes down and the boy runs away. A twelve year old boy just beat the living shit out of a grown man. That’s… that’s not normal. Nelson stays down, coughing. Hopefully questioning his life choices.
“Halloween morning.” Steckle deadpans, speaking into his handheld cassette recorder. This is a long soliloquy, the visuals starting out with the sun setting into the haze of pollution that is the city sky, the dome of the Taft building visible. We switch to a creeping pan down a sidewalk, showing the student housing building where Steckle resides, before revealing Steckle himself, laying on the couch with his feet up.
He goes on, composing his future book, describing that the Deathstronaughts? Deathateers? [JC: My idiot brain read that as “Deatheaters” before I looked closer.] [bat: Well, Nelson and Joe are Slytherins…] One of those. Feel no fear and thus are already dead and feel nothing. Or maybe they live life so well and love life that they’re imagining themselves immortal. (Well, one of you was previously immortal, so.) Steckle says something about “passion for science” and you can tell he’s going to need a hardheaded and heavy-handed editor for this “book”.
In conclusion: “Or maybe we were just fucked in the head.” I VOTE THAT OPTION!
It’s a brisk Fall day. Joe jogs to catch up to a petite blonde woman walking down the sidewalk. He greets her and introduces himself. “You’re Teri, right?” OH LOOK, IT’S THE GIRL FROM THE WARD WHO HAD A NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE! I WONDER WHAT JOE WANTS FROM HER, BESIDES THE OBVIOUS?
Okay, it’s not the obvious option. He broaches the rumor she had a NDE. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she stammers, heading into a building, as Joe follows.
The lobby is decorated extensively with huge paper skeletons and plastic blow art pumpkins. OH MAN THIS IS AMAZING, I ALWAYS FORGET. Joe is making his move, telling Teri he, too, has experienced a NDE and he “needs” someone to talk to about it. They move to a seating area and take chairs.
Teri whispers conspiratorially that “they” didn’t believe her. Joe dismisses “them”, as he and Teri were there and experienced it. We see two other young women turn around and stare at Joe knowingly. In the background is a television set, airing a football game.
Joe suggests that if Teri has to go to class, they can meet some night during the week to “discuss” their NDEs. Uh huh. Teri is, how do I say it, oblivious to the unspoken part of Joe’s proposition. She is serious about her NDE; Joe is just trying to use his as leverage into bed.
As Teri rambles on about her NDE, Joe glances at the TV. Suddenly the football game is replaced with black and white footage from one of Joe’s secret sex tapes. His jaw drops as he stares at it. He can’t tell if he’s really seeing it, if everyone watching the football game can see it. The cheers from the football crowd morph from “Go! Go! Go!” to “Joe! Joe! Joe!” as he watches himself move back, revealing the face of an African-American woman. She looks directly at him and asks, “Why did you do this to me, Joe?”
Joe stares in wide-eyed panic, mouthing ‘oh my god’ at the screen. SMASH CUT to the El roaring overhead as we arch across the space to reveal the downstairs entryway to Nelson’s apartment. (Cue me wincing in advance again. Ugh.)
In front of the bathroom mirror, a battered and bruised Nelson stands, suturing an open gash around his left eye. It’s gross and it doesn’t help (me) that his eye is red from hemorrhaging and he clearly struggles with pulling the tiny curved needle through his skin as it pulls the loose flaps tight. I mean, clearly it’s fake AF and Nelson isn’t real good at suturing stitches. Still, I would rank this on the list of body horror nightmares. Suturing your own face wounds. Ew.
Because apparently the apartment has fancy architecture but no closets [JC: There is simply no way to make closets fit in with fancy architecture, no way.], Nelson has a PVC pipe clothing rack full of the same white dress shirt, kept in dry cleaner bags, all at the ready. He removes one and puts it on. Dude looks way worse for wear here. He pauses to touch his sutured face before moving out of the bedroom. His left arm is apparently too bruised/injured to move, as he uses his right hand to pull up the shirt. DID I MENTION EVERYTHING IN THE APARTMENT IS CAST IN A BLUE HUE?
As he enters the main room, Nelson finally notices something is off. Staring at his front door, which has a piece of pressed glass in it, he hears Champ. Uh oh. Something moves towards the door, a pair of legs. Nelson stares intently. His eyes widen as he realizes it’s the boy from the tunnel. In panic, he bolts, grabbing his coat and disappearing out the backdoor (this apartment is weird) and takes the stairs, practically flying down them.
[Dove: In the above gif, he looks like Stephen Dorff. Not in the actual movie, just the gif.]
Exiting the fire door, which immediately locks behind him and also says NO ENTRY on it, Nelson encounters a shadow moving on the wall. He doubles back, swearing, realizing he is trapped. He turns around, yelling, “NO!” but facing his fear(?) and bracing for the worst.
Two children in costume move into frame. “Trick or treat!” Nelson, sweaty and trembling, leans back hard against the fire door. False alarm. [JC: REALLY, kids? Does this motherfucker look like he has candy on him?!] [bat: *quietly mutters in the background about how he looks like eye candy to me*] [Wing: Why are the trick or treating near the fire door in the first place?]
WEIRD ROCK MUSIC VIDEO MONTAGE TIME!
The song? Party Town. Performer? Dave Stewart & the Spiritual Cowboys. You would know Dave Stewart as one half of the Eurythmics, the other half being Annie Lennox. This comes from his solo album. Why this movie needed a “song” is anybodies’ guess but here we are.
The song’s lyrics are dark AF. Although you don’t really hear a lot of them in the short clip. I don’t even want to describe this montage; just watch the music video, also directed Schumacher (I think? Am I wrong?) but beware, MAJOR spoilers because this is a music video for a movie and they don’t seem to care that they’re giving away plot points.
Dave Stewart has all the charisma of a wet paper towel in that video. Ugh.
ANYWAY, I guess you can sum up the scene in the movie as a huge bonfire alight on the steps of the Taft building (um, no, no way) while college-aged and above students dance around in oversized costumes of varying levels of spooky and/or questionable taste. I remember walking into Halloween stores and seeing a lot of these masks/oversized fake body parts on display. So it’s really kind of a time capsule for me.
The wind stirs the plastic sheeting inside the Taft building, focusing in on the restoration work of the paintings in the alcoves, before we move to Steckle pulling down a window blind in one of the windows of the Dog Lab. He is uncertain tonight’s experiment is a good idea, it being Halloween and a Full moon. (Most of that is a lie. Some of this was filmed on October 28, or at least that’s what I read online. And the Full moon happened on the 14th of October 1989. Halloween was a 3% Waxing Crescent. [JC: However, in 2020 we get a Halloween blue moon, so that’s gonna be pretty cool.] [Wing: In 82 days! Not that I’m counting.]) Steckle has clearly fallen into the “all fucked in the head” summation he made earlier.
I would hesitate to disagree with him, honestly.
Labraccio sits on the gurney, applying the electrodes. Rachel stands beside… I guess she’s “helping”? A door shuts, everyone looks up. It’s just Nelson. He’s late. Apologies are made. Well, you were sewing your face shut, dude. One of them inquires, not sure if it’s Labraccio or Steckle. “Some very big guys, it doesn’t matter,” Nelson deflects though Rachel offers to look at it. “I’m fine,” Nelson snaps in impatience.
That’s subjective, Nelson. And we haven’t even gotten to my favorite scene involving more bodily injury done to him.
There’s more noise, drawing everyone’s attention to the doors. They open wide, revealing Joe, dressed in a black body suit with a full skeleton design on top. Well, it is Halloween. Someone should participate. (I would totally show up in my skeleton hoodie dress to flatline people, every single time. Hell, I wore that on my birthday this year. I love irony!)
Joe announces he doesn’t feel well, then asks what the hell happened to Nelson. “Worry about your camera,” Nelson snarls, rolling up his sleeves as Labraccio lays back on the gurney. I don’t know at what point this all became urgent to get Labraccio flatlined and back; I realize they’re working under the fear of being discovered but only in this instance are there literally people outside the windows that could find them.
“Nice outfit,” Nelson deadpans as Joe takes off his coat, as the others ready Labraccio for his trip. “Who are you supposed to be, ‘Boner Man’?” Steckle quips at Joe. [JC: Come on, Steckle, that was low-hanging fruit. Not that I can think of anything better at the moment, but I’d like to think you’re better than that.]
Labraccio reminds Nelson he’s to be gone 2:20. “You just hurry up and get back,” Nelson responds. “You can buy us breakfast.” He adds as almost an afterthought. See, at times, Nelson appears to understand that he is almost entirely reliant on Labraccio’s skills for the experiments to continue, that he doesn’t have the full self confidence to lead the others. (Let’s watch this attitude change in a few minutes!)
“Don’t let go of the rope,” Labraccio smiles at Nelson, as Rachel moves in and places the nitrous oxide mask over his nose. “Hokahey.” He smiles at Rachel, who timidly smiles back, as Nelson just glares. Because, Nelson.
Let’s get into hokahey, shall we? Actually, no, I don’t really want to. Nelson and Labraccio are meant to be opposite sides of the same coin, right? Well, they both have the same damn catch phrase, though Labraccio’s version of “Today’s a good day to die” is really contested as to whether it actually means that or was ever uttered by any Native American.
Labraccio is unconscious. Nelson injects the Sodium Pentothal and, like a good doctor, announces his actions. I have to give it to them, that part is accurate. Well, Dave, you’re in the hands of a bunch of actual misfits now. God speed.
For some reason I’m not entirely clear on, they allow Rachel to take charge and defib Labraccio. She’s almost unsure as she takes the paddles, calling out her actions, and shocking him. Of course it works the very first time, as Steckle is apparently in charge of calling out what the various monitors read. The camera slowly pans up Labraccio’s prone form, zooming in closer to the bridge of his nose before a blink and the image becomes inverse, showing his eye open as though it were an x-ray of his face. Or something. That was a bad description.
It zooms into his pupil and the screen darkens for a moment before we see Rachel’s face looming over his, Nelson, Joe’s arrival, etc., etc., as Labraccio’s mind rewinds everything in his recent memory. It picks up speed as it goes backwards, to the very first experiment, to the time he saved the woman’s life in the ER that got him suspended from medical school, to memories of his life before – growing up, schooling, family members, all that – until suddenly we see a fetus in utero. An ominous slow heartbeat sounds before the image fades into a (helicopter-filmed) view point shot of someone flying over craggy, snow-covered mountains. It is peaceful, as though whomever is viewing this is soaring like an eagle over a beautiful, majestic landscape.
In the living world, Joe films while Steckle rapidly speaks into his cassette recorder, composing the action in terrible prose. I remember something about “musky mist of death” in there. He’s also staring at his watch, counting down 2:20. Joe tells him to shut up before focusing back on filming. Nelson and Rachel stare down at Labraccio’s body.
“What if he didn’t make it back?” Nelson posits in a flat monotone that has the sharpest of edges to it. Rachel looks up sharply at Nelson, who slowly looks over at her. “Would you miss him, Rachel?”
Knife plunge and twist!
Nelson holds up his arm and reads his watch. “One minute.” (Sorry, have to scrape myself off the floor. There are reasons I have never watched Phone Booth, partly because I’m not sure I could handle 81 minutes of Sutherland just talking. Which is odd since I spent 2 hours watching him right in front of me, arms-length distance, at a concert but that resulted in me disassociating in the middle of a room full of strangers mid-concert and that was fun. Not really. And that was after meeting him face to face and conversing with him. Seriously, that was a day.)
We return to Labraccio’s afterlife adventure gliding over what I’m guessing are the Rockies (I could be wrong) which starts to have other imagery bleed into it. Children. Faces of children chanting and clapping. That image slowly becomes more clear as the snowy peaks fade.
Back to Joe’s grainy home footage. They are prepping to bring Labraccio back. “What’dya say we give him another five seconds?” Nelson queries. “Ten! Why not ten!” Rachel is alarmed and Steckle is shocked. I told you, attitude change ahoy. It’s Nelson’s show now and the de facto leader is on the table, dead. Joe lowers the camera, asking if Nelson is serious. A woman’s voice floats up to him, making him turn to the EEG monitor. More sex tape footage! “Joe! I trusted you, Joe!” He stares, horrified, at the brunette on the screen, moving to block it from view.
“Stations!” Rachel calls, as if she has any authority here. She tells Joe to move. Steckle asks for the kidding around to stop.
“Who’s kidding?” Nelson deadpans in an acid-filled whisper, rubbing the paddles, staring at Rachel. (Damn it, the floor is hard, stop making me fall on it.) Joe realizes the monitor is back to normal but is now confused as to what’s happening to him. The shade Steckle drew suddenly unlatches and flies up, terrifying everyone except Nelson, who orders Joe to get it. Outside we see Halloween revelers dancing by. Steckle counts down to 2:20. They slide the warming blanket off Labraccio.
“Two twenty. Hand it over.” Rachel orders Nelson. He only chuckles at her and notes the paddles are charged to 300 joules. “Clear.” He snarls before turning and defib’ing Labraccio.
Meanwhile, Labraccio’s… afterlife? has turned into train tracks. Children chant and clap in the background. We plunge into a dark tunnel, a figure lit from behind in the same eerie blue light moving slowly forward down the aisle of the train, surrounded by people who do not see or notice. Light illuminates the figure. It is a young African-American girl, in a sweater and a white Peter Pan collar. She looks angry.
In the land of the living, Rachel pushes the injections into the I.V. Steckle watches, making the oxygen bag, as Nelson performs chest compressions. “One one thousand, two one thousand. What comes next?” Nelson is toying around, playing god. “Knock it off, Nelson!” Steckle snaps.
Rachel takes up the paddles, having charged them to just 200 joules. She hesitates, rocking a bit on her feet as she whispers to herself, “C’mon, Dave.” before she shocks him again.
Labraccio sees images of scenic nature overlay and mingle with imagery of children on a playground, swinging on a swing set. Some are slow, like the scenery, that mirrors itself. The footage of children, speeds up as it reveals a group of children standing around a single child, yelling and taunting her. The girl from the train is seen again, as blue, white, and red light spills over her face.
The EEG captures two blips and Steckle cries that they have Labraccio back. Rachel dismisses him and charges the paddles again to 200 joules. Joe and Steckle suggest lidocaine and atropine. (Those are legit. I google’d.) Rachel shocks Labraccio again. Nothing. She increases the joules to 360 and immediately shocks Labraccio a fourth time. (I think it’s four.) Steckle fumbles with the vial of lidocaine, announces it’s been “three fucking minutes!” as Nelson starts CPR. Rachel pushes the atropine. Nelson orders Joe to continue filming and also that they’re going to bring Labraccio back.
Joe puts the eyepiece to his eye to film and immediately more porno footage airs, a blonde woman telling Joe he lied to her. Joe freaks, staring at his camera, as the others do everything they can to bring Labraccio back to life. [JC: Good thing Joe’s not here to do anything important. God help us all if this dumbass was actually responsible for bringing any of them back from the dead.] Rachel hits Labraccio with 350 joules and suddenly a heartbeat registers. Nelson pushes a milligram of epinephrine as Steckle puts the oxygen mask on Labraccio. “That was WAY TOO CLOSE, OKAY!” he sputters as the rest breathe sighs of relief.
Well, you all are only third-year medical students, you know.
Grainy black and white footage of the beginning of the experiment is shown. “Hokahay,” Labraccio says as the tape stops. “What did you say there?” Steckle asks. Labraccio explains it’s a Sioux Indian war cry, “Very macho!” in a weak voice as Rachel tucks the bed clothes in around him. (Well, I’ve already been over the hokahay bit. Not rehashing it.) Nelson adds in that it “translates” (HA no not really) to “Today is a good day to die.” Nelson wants to know if it was indeed a good day to die.
“I dunno if I was dead,” Labraccio stutters weakly. It could have been a dream or a bunch of stuff stored up in his mind. Joe glances warily at the television screen. Nelson counters Labraccio by noting he was brain dead. Labraccio insists there could still be electrical current circulating through his body. Nelson says it would have shown on the EEG. “You were dead.”
Labraccio says it’s hard to verbalize. “Like being paranoid without the fear. Like being watched. But that was probably just you guys standing over me.” What the fuck? Even Rachel looks exasperated.
“Who could be watching?” Steckle asks.
“The dead.” Nelson answers with a dark smile.
“I didn’t say that!” Labraccio insists.
“But the skeptic did feel something!” Nelson is in triumphant mode. “I’m going again!”
Rachel’s had it. “I’ve been bumped twice!” Gee, she’s actually mad. Nelson says bidding starts at 4:00, because Labraccio went for 3:50 [JC: Dammit, Loch Ness Monster, I ain’t givin’ you no tree fiddy!]. Which Steckle notes was a mistake because they couldn’t bring him back on time. Nelson points out that any exploration under 4:00 would be redundant. Steckle and Labraccio immediately attempt to put the kibosh on anyone going or going again.
“4:25.” Rachel announces coolly, staring at Nelson. He smiles at her. “5:00.” “I’m next or I’m out, for good.” She counters, knowing she has Nelson over a barrel. Labraccio chimes in that if Rachel bows out, being brought back will be super difficult without her help. (How? Yes, they all have the same basic skills and some are more intuitive and at home with making fast decisions on their feet, but I fail to understand how the loss of Rachel changes anything. Anything beyond Nelson and Labraccio mooning over her. I guess the loss of an extra set of hands to perform life saving tasks is what we’re going for.)
That’s when Labraccio announces he’s out, followed by Steckle and Joe. Rachel takes her triumphant seat on the bedside.
“Well. Mutiny at last,” Nelson huffs. He lectures the other four that he trusted them, trusted them with a once-in-a-lifetime idea. (I warned you, dude. Did you listen to me? Nope. [JC: They never do. Sigh. If only they would listen to us.]) Labraccio sternly warns Nelson to give it a rest. Nelson explodes.
“None of you had the foresight or the balls to do any of this, until I did it.” Well, where is Nelson wrong in that statement?
He caps off his rant by saying Rachel can go next, fuck the rest of the participants. “This is my idea. You’re just tourists!” And with that, Nelson exits stage left.
That’s the problem when you share “genius” ideas with others and are forced to face the fact that you cannot accomplish said idea without said help of others, Nelson. Right now Labraccio has clocked in at the longest (unintended) flatline, soundly knocking Nelson out of the seat. Sure, Nelson went first but he also was the shortest trip.
And what of Rachel’s 4:25? What does that do? It proves nothing. She is trying to vie in the boys’ club and make her mark but being foolish about it. She first-hand experienced how difficult it was to bring Labraccio back. Is Nelson going to fool around with her life? Will Labraccio being in charge make a difference? What if they fuck up and turn her into a Cabbage Patch Doll? (Actually, I’d say she’s already there but that’s me just being mean.)
Joe and Steckle are walking home in the dark. Steckle is rambling on, justifying his decisions to remain a non-participant at the moment. He suggests he would have chosen to go for maybe 3:30, maybe 3:40, and he’s not saying he won’t go at all. But pushing the five minute mark is tempting fate. “Zucchini land!” as Steckle names it. [JC: Zucchiniland, the incredibly disappointing arthouse sequel to Zombieland.] He wants to start questioning Nelson’s judgement…
…but Joe has stopped paying attention to his best friend, not that he was completely focused to begin with. They pass a pawn shop, with televisions in the window, that begin to show footage of Joe’s home porno collection. Women chastise and swear at him, before Anne appears
“I love you, Joe.” She says solemnly.
“Yoo hoo, Skeletor! You listening to me?” Steckle calls to Joe. Joe looks heartbroken. Apparently not heartbroken enough to have not cheated on his fiancee but this is his shitty story arc, this is what haunts him.
Nelson. Oh, Nelson. He arrives home to his ridiculously empty yet architecturally beautiful apartment, sterile and cold. Unfortunately, he doesn’t yet seem to understand that blue light is a giant warning sign. He leaves the golden, red-toned outside world and enters his apartment. We view him from behind the computer monitor on his expensive desk, tiny marble reproduction statues the only decor to be found that gives a hint of the inhabitant’s taste. And even then, not much of one.
Shutting the front door, Nelson flips the light switch, revealing… giant florescent tubes that illuminate the walls from the ground. Visibly? Fucking cool. Practical? Oh my god, what the fuck. My vision was damaged by florescent lights overhead at a job I held for several years. I physically get ill if I have to be under them any prolonged period of time. But, you know, Schumacher loved set design and it shows in Nelson’s apartment. [JC: It’s a beautiful space. But, like, put some personality into it, my dude.] [bat: TBH, even with his “character growth arc” that’s unfolding, Nelson just has a one-note personality. It frustrates me.]
Nelson, still angry about the mutiny, strides into the bedroom but stops short when he sees muddy shoe prints over his crisp white bed linens. (Also, the BLUE LIGHT would give him a huge hint but I’m not sure the characters ever understand lighting cues.) Unfortunately, realization dawns too late on Nelson and he turns around to find the red-hoodie wearing boy standing in the corner, holding a hockey stick.
With one powerful whack, the blade of the hockey stick connects hard with Nelson’s face, sending him spiraling through the air to land face down on the bed. The boy hits him again across the back, Nelson screaming and groaning. Climbing on Nelson’s bed, the boy flips him over and straddles him, as Nelson watches in horror as the boy spits in his face, albeit it slowly, before the boy smiles in satisfaction as Nelson screams.
Ew. [JC: I can take the violence without flinching, but spit makes me want to puke. No. Just no.]
We end on a shot of Nelson, screaming, face bloodied, terrified.
Smash cut to the mural painted on the wall of Labraccio’s bedroom. A snow-covered mountain peak, surrounded by lush forests of tall evergreens. The camera pans right to reveal Labraccio, who suddenly comes awake. He sits up in bed and watches Rachel folding sheets in super slow motion, illuminated by the sun from behind, that streams in through windows, casting her in a heavenly golden glow. She has spent the night, watching over him, although this time she had a cot to sleep on instead of a chair at Nelson’s.
Labraccio thanks her for staying. Rachel ignores it, stating she has an early shift at the hospital and Labraccio is fine, so she’s leaving. Labraccio tries to make her wait, struggling out of bed, broaching the subject of Rachel’s impending trip into death. “Don’t try to talk me out of it!” she snaps at him.
He blocks her path, asking her pointedly why she’s doing this. Rachel, for once, reveals more of her story. She’s lost people close to her and she wants to make sure they’ve gone to a “good” place. Labraccio says that’s the “best” reason he’s heard for anyone choosing to participate in this experiment.
Really? Really? [JC: I mean . . . at least it’s a reason. What are the others’ reasons? Curiosity and showing off? One-upping each other? I know, I know, I’m being simplistic. They have real reasons. I guess.] [Dove: I’d say curiosity is a good reason too. I mean, most people have lost someone, and most of them liked at least one of the people they lost. I really hate the “wrecked by dead parent” trope in any media, and since Rachael has no personality, having dead relatives is her defining trait and I just loathe her for it.]
Labraccio adds, almost guiltily or in order to, I dunno, maybe make Rachel think twice, that he felt as though “something” were out there protecting him, something “good”. Rachel smiles brightly, because she’s eager to be convinced, especially by Labraccio, who is honest and trustworthy. Not like Nelson.
“So, you don’t need to go.”
“You’re trying to tell me the atheist now believes in God?” Rachel is still smiling.
Labraccio explains that he’s telling her he doesn’t want her to do it. Rachel just continues to smile, saying she and Labraccio will have so much to talk about, when he brings her back. She leaves his apartment. Rachel 1, Labraccio 0.
SMASH CUT over to the ward, where Rachel is on shift. She is visiting the old lady again, sitting at her bedside. The flowers are gone and the old woman is speaking to her. She demands Rachel stop lying to her. Mrs Amsbly (Ashby in the tie-in novel) has been “ravaged by ovarian cancer” (again, in the tie-in novel) and although Rachel tried to remain positive in the prior scene they shared, she’s a lot more realistic in this one. Still kind, still optimistic, but for different reasons.
Rachel tells her sometimes we have to let go. “That’s what the voices say.” Mrs Amsbly announces. Well, that hooked Rachel hard. She inquires and the answers given she confirms that they are indeed good voices and everything is fine. She also confirms that Mrs Amsbly has “somewhere to go” when she dies. Mrs Amsbly asks if she really believes that. Rachel confirms she does, before we shown the old woman holding Rachel’s hand in both her own.
Let’s see what Rachel thinks after her flatline experiment.
SMASH CUT (ugh) to Rachel towel drying her hair. She looks over at a framed photo, of a young dark-haired girl with a man in an Army dress uniform decorated with medals. It could very much be inferred that this is Rachel and her father. Her father looks uncomfortable and rather gaunt. Rachel looks away. [JC: Kid Rachel looks nothing like Julia Roberts, either. Kid Labraccio, on the other hand, looks remarkably like Kevin Bacon. Kid Nelson is . . . eh, close enough, I guess.]
The EL roars into the shot. Labraccio is riding it. The car is quite full of passengers. It begins to descend into the tunnel Labraccio saw during his flatlining trip. He turns just in time to see the tunnel swallow the train, the lights going out, only the tiniest bulbs illuminating the roof of the tunnel. A light comes on, illuminating Labraccio from the front, so we only see his back. A young voice calls out, “Hey! Hey fellatio!”
Out of the blue light from behind pops a young African-American girl. It is the one we saw, the one from his memories. Labraccio looks around, but no one else seems to be reacting. He turns to face the girl. She asks if he has a match and mentions something about putting his face to her ass. Labraccio chuckles as the joke and asks if he knows her.
That’s when the girl goes on a foul-mouthed rant, calling him extremely creative school yard-level names of varying nastiness, complete with a lisp. She walks along the aisle of the train, taunting and teasing Labraccio like a proper school yard bully. The other passengers on the train begin to laugh. Labraccio is unsure of what is going on and why this girl has singled him out.
She begins to ask if he’s going to cry, “cry-baby Davy!” Something in this taunt has rung a bell in Labraccio’s memories. He tries in vain to avoid looking at the girl, seeing the other passengers howl with laughter at the scene. “Ass-licking son of a bitch!” the girl cries as the train rockets out of the tunnel.
Labraccio whips around, grabbing the metal pole, looking as though he has been sucker punched and the wind knocked out of his lungs.
(Okay. We have three flatlining experiments and so far… well, wait, can I really talk about this yet? Magic 8 Ball says no. So I’ll wait.)
BUT ANYWAY WHATEVER, it’s Rachel’s turn to flatline! [JC: Yup, it’s not like weird shit is happening to everyone who’s flatlined! A-OK to proceed!] [Wing: None of them will admit weird things are happening because they wouldn’t be tough or something.] The camera pans along slowly, showing the Taft building sitting in gloomy silence under a cloudy sky at night. The flashing yellow warning lights of the construction barriers blink on and off slowly in a haphazard pattern, warning people away. Thunder rolls overhead.
This is probably the worst night to perform a murder slash resuscitation but has that stopped these experiments before? Nope. [Wing: FRANKENSTEIN KIND OF NIGHT. Also, a building under construction, a thunderstorm, I see no way in which water + electricity will ever be a problem here. Nope.]
We arrive inside the dog lab, where everything is set up and ready to go. Rachel sits atop the gurney. Joe looks up at the leaking ceiling. Nelson… well… Nelson’s there. He is in real bad shape. Gone are the smart, dry-cleaned clothes. He’s wearing scrub pants and a long-sleeved white shirt to cover his arms (wonder why?) and a sweater over top. Steckle kicks a bucket into frame to catch water pouring down from the ceiling.
Nelson readies the electrodes. Rachel asks, “How’d it happen?”
“Playing hockey.” Nelson deflects, applying electrodes. [JC: “Yeah, but you should see the other guy. He got ten minutes in the penalty box for high-sticking and slashing! Power play, bitches!”] [bat: Any time ‘Sutherland’ and ‘hockey’ are used in the same sentence, I think of this.] [JC: Oh good lord. I’d forgotten that was a thing that happened.] [Dove: Some of us can never forget.] He attempts to apologize for being an asshole the prior evening. Rachel interrupts him, saying it’s okay. No, it’s really not, but I get it. I’d probably act in the same manner.
Steckle and Joe finish placing various buckets and ready themselves for another evening resuscitating a classmate. Steckle notes Labraccio is a no-show and it’s very unlike him. Rachel says it’s Labraccio trying to stop her from flatlining and “it won’t work.” She insists she’s ready to go. Steckle opines that they shouldn’t proceed without Labraccio.
“We don’t need Dave,” Nelson dismisses.
“Can you do this?” Rachel asks Nelson. “Can you trust me?” he counters. WELL LET’S SEE. I’M NOT SURE I WOULD AT THIS POINT, WITH HOW BEAT UP YOU LOOK PLUS YOUR ATTITUDE THE THREE PRIOR NIGHTS AND THIS IS ME.
“No, but let’s do it anyway,” Rachel finally replies.
GEE. THIS SO MUCH REFLECTS THEIR REAL-LIFE RELATIONSHIP I COULD CRY. OR LAUGH. MORE LIKE LAUGH.
Rachael, who is wearing a white bra [Dove: With what looks like underwire, but let’s be generous and assume plastic instead of metal.], a sweater around her shoulders, and pants, lays back on the gurney. Nelson begins by switching on the nitrous oxide. Steckle, I’m assuming, places the cooling blanket over her. (I scream at the screen about them leaving the sweater beneath her body.) Nelson moves to place the mask on her face. Rachel looks up at him. “See you soon.” He places the mask on her face, she blinks a few times, and she’s out.
I was going to avoid talking about it but this is so egregious that I cannot skate past it without comment. (I wouldn’t be me if I skipped out, you all know this to be fact.) I’ve mentioned I’ve been Googling the shit out of medical terms and procedures while watching this; Google must think I’m looking into going to medical school and/or a becoming a serial killer at this point. [JC: We’re all definitely on a list somewhere.]
To give context, let’s go back and learn some history. In 1775, scientists proved a chicken’s heart could be stopped/started with electricity. Fast-forward some two hundred years and the first automated external defibrillator was invented in 1978. Considering that came about just shy of 30 years after the first time “open chest” defibrillation was used, and just over 20 years past the first case of external defibrillation, and about ~10 years since the very first portable defibrillator was invented… the science was still… newish? when this film came out. Well, okay, the equipment was newish. The science and usage of defibrillation in medical settings was well-known and established.
Nowadays we have fully automated public access defibrillators, which can be used by ordinary people with no medical training, in order to save a patient in crisis before medical personal can be summoned.
Still, something about this scene has always bothered me. I know for a fact that you cannot successfully defib someone over clothing. There has to be skin contact and proper placement of the paddles for the shock to work. I don’t know if that’s just my logic or I learned that somewhere in the past or what but it’s true. Please see Myth #7. The fact that Rachel is wearing a bra, even if it is a cloth one and contains no underwire, is bullshit. They wouldn’t be able to make proper skin contact in the correct positions for the paddles because of the fabric. But, because this is a movie, you get Little Miss Modesty in her virginal white lacy cotton bra. I mean, yeah, the movie is rated R but I’m pretty damn sure Roberts has some sort of nudity clause in her contract and I’m also damn sure that if she had been topless, it would have been A) a body double and B) that would be the only thing this movie is remembered for, “topless” Julia Roberts.
Unfortunately, most non-medical personnel don’t know that clothing has to be removed, even if it’s in the directions. Case in point, an unlucky Japanese man who was shamed by his countrymen when he saved a woman’s life after removing her bra in order to use the AED. Maybe someone reading this will get this little piece of truth stuck in their head and it will come in handy, should they ever have to use an AED on a stranger. [JC: Shit, I’ll get my tits out if it saves my life. *shrug*]
Myth #7 also proves (again) that this is a goddamn movie and the actors are not remotely being shocked. Because, for one, chest hair. No, really. Read Myth #7 again. The only one that could have been properly defib’d was Labraccio. Nelson? Nope. Joe is even more hairy, so, seriously, no way. Also read Myth #5. There’s no loud noise and the body does not buck violently off the gurney/floor into the air. That, that’s all “movie magic”. It’s also driven me crazy because of the inaccuracy since the first time I saw the movie. Myth #11 also directly applies to this film. That’s a very helpful chart of Myths, if I may say so.
(It’s also… telling… that they did not show Rachel being defib’d into death. None of that. They skipped right over her being, well, killed. No body bucking on the table after being shocked, like the male cast members. Hm.)
Why am I doing this? Why am I Googling and searching for answers to explain this film? Because I tend to write fiction that is brutality based in reality and if reality cannot be molded to fit what I need, then I forget that I can say ‘fuck it’ and pretend, go with make believe fantasy. I know, this movie is total fiction but I have blurred that line so badly towards favoring making fantasy into reality at times, I get very upset when I know movies didn’t try hard enough to go for actuality. It’s my problem, I know. Honestly, the makers of Flatliners did do what they could to ground the actors in medical knowledge and basic training, so parts of it are accurate.
Except for that goddamn bra.
BACK TO THE MOVIE.
The music has picked up in pace, signaling a race against… something. Oh, it’s just Labraccio, running into the Taft building. He bursts into the dog lab, scaring the crap out of the others. He demands to know how long Rachel has been under. “1:20,” Steckle answers. Which leaves 3:05 on her allotted flatlining trip length. Labraccio insists they bring her back. Nelson is all fuck that shit and everyone starts arguing. Labraccio orders Joe to flip the blanket to warming mode. Nelson says Rachel hasn’t been dead long enough. It’s all arguing as Labraccio removes his coat and yells at Joe with a stern, sharp order.
“Don’t expect any hugs and kisses for this,” Nelson snarls at Labraccio.
We leave the in-fighting among the alpha and wanna-be alpha males to… join Rachel in her regularly scheduled death-in-progress. The camera zooms in on her profile, the electrodes in place monitoring her nonexistent brainwaves, as red light seeps in. The painted face of the Catholic white Jesus flickers in, placed just so as to be looking as if he is watching over Rachel.
The images merge until painted Jesus becomes crystal clear, saturated in red and white lights. One bright flash and we see a woman with a handheld film camera, taking a photograph, the flash cube blinding everyone. This is a montage, so just remember, images are flickering and melding into one another in rapid pace.
A homemade chocolate-frosted cake on a tray covered in tinfoil, tiny paper American flags on toothpicks stuck into it, white frosting carefully spelling out WELCOME HOME DADDY. A young girl smiling, sitting at the table as the flashbulbs go off in rapid succession. A tall man in an Army dress uniform, decorated with medals and patches, stands behind her. He looks… amused. A grandfather smoking a thick cigar and laughing. Punch being abandoned from a crystal punchbowl, American flag decorations everywhere, confetti mingling with the punch in the glass as it is handed to the young girl. The grandmother kissing and hugging her son, who now seems uncomfortable with the spectacle thrown in his honor. His wife moving to hug her husband, as the camera zooms in on a child’s hand drawn sign “Welcome Home Daddy”, taped above an American flag. [JC: From the time frame, he’s obviously coming home from the Vietnam War, but the aesthetic screams “WWII” to me for whatever reason. It’s weird.]
Flashbulbs distort the image as the camera shows the family of three standing together for a photo, the young girl in her father’s arms. Suddenly, the images slow down, the father’s expression becoming more uncomfortable and distant, until a bright white light floods the image.
Back in reality, Steckle speaks into his cassette recorder, noting temperature and that the experiment is being aborted. “Why, Dave?!” Labraccio pointedly pops the top off a VERY LARGE NEEDLE. “Why don’t you ask Doctor Death?” he glares at Nelson, who looks up but remains SUSPICIOUSLY SILENT.
They start to fight more. Labraccio wants to know what’s going on. Nelson counters there’s nothing happening, they’re just bringing Rachel back a “little early”. Yeah. Uh huh. Joe interrupts and tells them to knock it off, Steckle adding that Rachel’s temperature is at 91, they need to be ready to act quickly.
Labraccio and Nelson continue to glare at each other.
The camera takes a detour over to a large open electrical panel… or electrical box… whatever. It’s full of plugs and wires and is dangerous open to the elements. We see water begin to pour down the front of it, soaking the obviously still active source of power.
Back to Rachel’s death…trip. The young girl, OBVIOUSLY RACHEL if you haven’t figured it out, is playing with a small tambourine. Her mother is ironing dress shirts in the kitchen, her father’s Army dress jacket with all the patches and medals hanging on a cabinet knob. Young Rachel stops and looks up the staircase, which is cluttered with her toys. Red and white lights continue to flash, washing out or occluding the imagery all together.
At the top of the stairs is a door, cracked just a fraction open, red light illuminating around the edge. We watch young Rachel slowly climb the stairs as the music takes on a more ominous tone. She pushes open the door to reveal it is a bathroom. Steam comes from the running shower. Her father sits with his back to the door, dressed in a sweat-stained tank top, hunched forward.
As young Rachel pushes further into the bathroom, her mother grabs her, yanking her away and yelling in her face. It’s difficult to understand what she is saying, but something to the effect of being told not to do that. I guess that means not disturbing her father?
But it doesn’t matter. Rachel’s father bolts from the bathroom, fleeing down the stairs at a breakneck pace. His wife yells after him but he doesn’t stop. Rachel’s mother looks at her and is clearly heard yelling, “It’s your fault!” Then the sound of a gunshot. The sound of the defibrillator mingles into the death trip. Rachel’s mother looks up in the direction the gunshot came from.
Back in reality, Nelson defib’s Rachel – PLACING THE PADDLES RIGHT OVER THE BRA AND ELECTRODES OH MY GOD YOU FUCKING FAIL AT MEDICINE, NELSON – and her body bucks from the shock. (liiiiiiiiiiies) Nothing results. Steckle is staring at his watch, recounting every effort into his cassette recorder. Joe is filming. This leaves Labraccio and Nelson to do all the work. Labraccio orders the charge increased to 300 joules. Nelson defibs her again, AGAIN PLACING THE PADDLES RIGHT ON TOP OF THE BRA OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO LOSE IT.
Rachel isn’t finished with her death trip, guys. We return to it, still in-progress. The front door reflects a huge American flag outside the house as her mother runs to open the door. I don’t know, because I don’t live in a city with them, but it looks as though they live in a brownstone-type three storey building on a huge lot that is devoid of other buildings. (Someone clear that up for me?) Across the street is another three storey building almost identical but the windows are boarded up. A red Ford truck sits parked on the lawn.
The camera follows the path Rachel’s father took towards the truck, showing broken glass everywhere and Rachel’s bicycle lying in the street. Her mother runs out, screaming “Danny!” in a distorted voice. We SMASH CUT back to Rachel’s dead body in the present as Labraccio and Nelson try another round of defibrillation. There is a bunch of activity on the EEG monitor. Nelson yells they have her. Suddenly the EEG flatlines. “DON’T HAVE HER!” Labraccio snaps angrily.
Yeah. I totally want these two working on me in the ER. Sure. [JC: But they’re so calm and collected and professional, bat!]
Steckle stammers into the cassette recorder, holding his watch inches from his eye. He insists everything is fine and they’ll bring Rachel back. Considering they abruptly interrupted her flatline experiment, they have to have gone beyond the allotted time she chose for herself, right?
Nelson ups the joules to 360. As he moves to shock her (OVER THE DAMN BRA, THE BANE OF MY EXISTENCE) there is a huge shower of sparks as the water has done its job and shorted out the power supply to the dog lab. Everything goes dark (well, dark enough for the film to suggest the dog lab has fallen into darkness.) Nelson starts yelling and demanding answers, saying he had Rachel back. Labraccio and Joe run to the electrical panel and start looking for the cause and/or way to fix it. [Wing: I can’t imagine what would possibly have caused an exposed electrical panel to short out during a thunderstorm.]
Steckle finds an emergency light and hangs it from the I.V. pole, calling to Joe. He charged the emergency backup battery, right? JOE DID NOT. (Duh. We need more drama, all the drama with Rachel!) [JC: I buy this. Joe is the fuckwittiest of fuckwits.] Nelson begins CPR compressions, ordering Steckle to bag Rachel. Labraccio returns and notes there’s still no pulse.
We begin to whiplash back and forth between Rachel’s death trip – which is just like Nelson’s AND Labraccio’s AND Joe’s in and of itself that it’s really just fucking memories – and we see her mother looking into the truck where we see Rachel’s father holding a gun and blood on his arm, which sports a military tattoo. Rachel’s mother begins to scream as the camera circles low around the truck, revealing the cracked windscreen with a bloody hole in the middle of it. Clearly Danny has committed suicide. Young Rachel stares at the hole, the camera zooming in on it to really cement the whole dramatic suicide for no stated reason bit. [JC: I’m very confused as to how you would shoot yourself in such a way that you get a bullet hole coming out the middle of the windshield like that. All I can figure out is that he either turned facing the backseat and put the gun in his mouth, or turned to the side and shot himself in the side of the head. Either positioning seems really odd.] [Wing: Agreed. The hole makes it seem like he was murdered.]
Nelson has been counting off compressions while Labraccio uses a stethoscope to listen for a pulse. Or something. Nelson orders Joe to take over compressions. Steckle notes that Rachel has been under for 4.00 now. Yeah, okay, she was going for what, 4:20? Joe counts off CPR compressions while Labraccio removes the manual bag for pumping oxygen into a patient’s lungs and begins mouth-to-mouth. Overly dramatic? Yes.
But not as dramatic as Nelson. He reaches into the cooler and yells he’s moving on to Bretylium (google says: An anti-arrhythmic agent that blocks the release of noradrenaline from nerve terminals and is used after the first line response, such as lidocaine, have proven not to work. Checks out.) Labraccio screams no at Nelson while still trying to perform mouth-to-mouth. Nelson insists it’s their last chance to bring her back, all the while shoving a syringe into the vial and withdrawing the liquid. Um, reading more, it says this shit needs to be diluted. NELSON ISN’T DILUTING THAT.
Steckle begs Nelson not to, that using Bretylium will “fry” Rachel. I’m not knowledgeable enough to, upon reading the information, to say if that’s true or not but the fact that A) Nelson isn’t diluting it and B) what I can read says this shit should be used as a last resort and only under special circumstances, SAYS PLAUSIBLE.
(Actually, yes, please fry the character, evil me would enjoy it.)
Nelson ignores everyone and pulls Rachel’s arm out from under the warming blanket, smacking the ditch of her elbow as though that’s going to bring a vein to the surface? WTF? He moves the needle into position as Labraccio hisses his name. Nelson pauses.
“Please. Don’t.” Labraccio begs quietly, his fingers pinching Rachel’s nose closed, his other hand cupping her chin, prepared to continue mouth-to-mouth. Nelson stares, at Labraccio, at the needle he’s about to push into Rachel’s arm. He’s clearly freaking out, sweat pouring down his face. The needle moves away from her arm. “You bring her back,” he orders Labraccio.
(That’s just me screaming BOO-URNS in the background.)
Even though they totally paused CPR for dramatic purposes, everyone returns to compressions and mouth-to-mouth as if they didn’t totally waste a minute being dramatic. Nelson has a mini emotional freak out, Steckle pushes lidocaine into the I.V., Joe counts off compressions. Labraccio begs quietly for Rachel to come back. He breathes into her mouth. Steckle suddenly makes a shushing noise. He’s wearing the stethoscope.
Steckle announces he “hears something”. The camera moves over to Nelson, who looks like he is either going to start crying or quit medicine. Labraccio listens then harshly whispers for the oxygen mask. Steckle obliges, turning on the tank as Labraccio puts the mask over Rachel’s nose and mouth. Condensation immediately clouds the plastic. He looks at Nelson: “She’s back.”
A beat then Nelson exhales hard. He sniffles and half smiles in relief behind his hand. (Damn. Here I thought would be the one time when I watched and they wouldn’t succeed. Sigh. YES I KNOW I’M MEAN.) [Wing: Kind of coming across as if you hate female characters, yeah. I know you don’t, really, but between this and The Lost Boys…] [bat: I swear, I don’t, not always! Off the top of my head, I love Alice in Русалка, Dr. Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park, Olive Penderghast in Easy A… I think it’s the Sutherland factor.] Rachel’s eyes flutter under the lids as Labraccio runs his hand through his hair, relieved.
For all that drama, now it’s just Nelson, Labraccio, and Steckle standing around whispering in angry tones while Joe leans on the gurney. Steckle wants to know why Labraccio stopped Rachel’s flatline experiment. Labraccio says something happened to him on the EL. Immediately Nelson is like, what the fuck dude. Labraccio goes on to say he thinks her name is Winnie Hicks and she went to elementary school with him and “we used to make fun of her!” Nelson stomps off. Steckle stares in disbelief. Labraccio says he heard someone call his name, turned around, and she was standing there “still only ten years old!”
Nelson has wandered off to hang out by the giant metal head at the far end of the room. Steckle tries to chalk up Labraccio‘s experience to a hallucination triggered by guilt. Labraccio insists no, it was real. Joe pipes up and says he’s seen things from his past, too.
“I thought it might be brain damage.”
“In your case, it probably is.”
Steckle switches on his cassette recorder, Joe demands he turn it off. Nelson gets extra dramatic, hanging alone, looking over his shoulder, realizing he’s had the worst of it. Because he’s had the shit beat out of him, how many times now, by an 8 year old boy?
Joe explains to Labraccio and Steckle that he’s been haunted by images of women he videotaped without their knowledge, all “members of the Joe Hurley Video Library”. Steckle is shocked. Just shocked. Labraccio, on the other hand, realizes someone else is being very very quiet.
“What about you, Nelson? Who’s come looking for you?”
Billy Mahoney, Nelson explains, a kid he and others used to pick on in school. (Ironic. Both men vying for Rachel’s attention were bullies in elementary school. Remember that bit about Nelson and Labraccio being opposite sides of the same coin?) Nelson says it’s really no big deal. [Dove: When I was about sixteen, I had a best friend who always wore a hoodie. I told him he looked like Billy Mahoney all the time, and after about a month, he asked, “Who the fuck is Billy Mahoney?” We went straight home and watched the movie. I expected him to be offended, but he actually wasn’t. He just accepted that he was Billy Mahoney.]
Labraccio doesn’t buy it. He wants to know what happened to Nelson’s face. (Me! Me! I can tell you!!) “Sometimes the little fellow gets carried away,” Nelson shrugs.
Steckle interjects. He says it’s easy to explain away Labraccio falling asleep on the train and dreaming of memories and Joe having home-made porno flashbacks but the fact that Billy Mahoney can touch Nelson and beat the snot out of him is ENTIRELY IMPOSSIBLE. The trio advance on Nelson. Nelson waves away Steckle’s concerns.
Nelson points out this whole experiment isn’t possible, or is it? They’ve all died (except, y’know, Steckle) and “somehow” brought back their sins physically.
“And they’re pissed.”
Hold up. I’ve always had qualms with this explanation. Can anyone truly prove to me that these characters “experienced death” when the story basically presents that all that happened – when their bodies were clinically / legally brain dead – was they experienced was just memories. Three had memories of where they were in positions of power and used it to hurt people. Two were bullies, one is a sex pest. Two are just guilty – Labraccio and Joe. Two of the four experiences were traumatic in the fact that someone died as a consequence – Billy Mahoney and Danny, Rachel’s father. The same two feel guilt for those deaths. Rachel’s memory is solely presented from the standpoint that she took full responsibility for her father’s suicide based on her mother blaming her. Nelson’s, well, that will get explained soon enough.
Yes, I agree that it’s a form of sin. There’s enough Catholic imagery and guilt in this movie that it fits. But I don’t agree that it’s a true exploration of what happens when someone dies, especially because the movie A) gives them a tether of time in which to be “dead” before they are literally resurrected and B) the movie makes a point of tertiary characters talking about common NDE, none of which resemble what the Deathateers experience. The question is, is that because they chose to die in a “controlled” environment or what?
I guess I can agree with Filardi that the themes of atonement and forgiveness with the end result of “justice” are accurate. I just can’t put my finger on why it all falls apart when you look at the story too closely. Yes, yes, it’s a goddamn movie, bat, move on.
Labraccio wants to know when Nelson knew about… I guess when he knew his sins had come back to haunt him. Nelson says he had suspicions after Joe went. Labraccio flips out, because that means Nelson said nothing before Labraccio and Rachel went. Yeah, that’s withholding information, potentially crucial information, from participants. Yeah, Nelson, you’re going to be real bad doctor. Steckle dresses him down as being reckless, unethical, and immoral. [JC: WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM A SLYTHERIN, STECKLE?! Although, I’m a Slytherin, but we’re just going to ignore that for now, mmkay?] [Wing: Dude, this entire experiment is reckless, you can’t really throw that one at him, Steckle. You all deserve it. I’ll give you the other two.]
That’s when Nelson argues that Rachel could have all the answers to life and death because she was dead for five whole fucking minutes. Um, no. Not remotely, Nelson. You’ve totally lost the plot here. He goes so far to say that if she has those answers, “the whole world will worship her.”
(SEE. REAL WORLD COLLIDING WITH MOVIE MAKING, WORSHIPPED AS THE GIRL NEXT DOOR AND AMERICA’S SWEETHEART. Bleh. [Dove: Have you ever seen the clip where she’s baffled by Twitter? I find it hard to worship someone who cannot take 10 seconds to look at Twitter and go, “Oh! Oh, right, that’s what they mean.”] [bat: Ironic, since Sutherland has taken to Twitter just as much as he has taken to tequila.])
And the final knife into Labraccio is Nelson pointing at him and noting, “Just like you.” OOO, SHOTS FIRED, JEALOUS MUCH, NELSON??
They fight. Labraccio insists Nelson should have told them what was happening to him. Nelson insists no one else would have done the experiment. [JC: Yes, that’s the fucking point, Nelson.] Labraccio snaps at least they would have had a choice in the matter. Labraccio storms away. Joe and Steckle stare at Nelson, who fidgets before walking away, having a mini tantrum in being called out and possibly destroying his experiment by, you know, not being truthful.
“We’re fucked,” Joe says to Steckle. No. Just you, Joe.
Labraccio knocks on the door to the ladies room. He calls to Rachel. She calls back that she’s okay, reassuring herself more than Labraccio. Here’s something. If she was supposedly in the bathroom this whole time, why does it show her just walking into it? Like she’s been hanging around the door during that whole scene? Or putting on her sweater while the others yell at one another???
Rachel walks past plastic sheeting that covers the restoration work in the bathroom. She turns on the tap and splashes her face with water, staring at her reflection in the mirror. There is a noise. She yells out that she said she was fine. Behind her, the room floods with red light. A figure moves behind the plastic, which blows around in an unseen wind. Rachel stares into the mirror, unmoving, as the figure moves closer.
Suddenly the mirror is cracked just like the windscreen. Through the plastic sheeting, she can see Danny, blood dripping down the side of his head and face. He looks haunted. Father and daughter stare at each for a long time before the sound of something overtakes the scene.
It is the sound of Nelson screwing a huge security bar into his front door. A HUGE iron bar that he bolts into place. He runs through his apartment, locking doors, checking other locks, making sure everything is secured and there is no way in or out of that main room. Dude has gone full blown paranoid.
He sits down in front of his massive wooden desk, on the floor, staring at the front door. He is disheveled, his split lip still healing as much as the wound along his eye, dressed in a stained white t-shirt and green scrub pants. A wild eyed smile splits his face. He rocks back and forth, daring Billy Mahoney to give it his best shot. “I fucking dare you!”
Um. Nelson really doesn’t understand how this works, does he.
Okay. We have officially entered ACT THREE, time to wrap this shit up with a neat little bunch of bows and totally not answer any questions. This is the endgame, people. TIME FLIES WHEN YOU’RE RUNNING FROM YOUR PHYSICALLY MANIFESTED SINS.
Labraccio decides to spend the night at Rachel’s, because… reasons. [Wing: Well, she did spend the night with Nelson and Labraccio after they went under.] And, you know, he like-likes her. She’s tucked into bed, wrapped in multiple blankets, trying to make sense of what Labraccio is (poorly) explaining to her. He’s hit her with the news that… uh… things from the past, as Rachel calls them, “want revenge”. Labraccio admits he really doesn’t know how any of this works (BECAUSE IN PRACTICE IT DOESN’T) but if anything happens or she sees, I dunno, her dead father, Labraccio wants her to tell him. “Tell a doctor,” he laughs. Ugh.
He decamps to the living room with a pillow and blanket and a bunch of books about death and dying, full of bookmarks. Hm. The atheist is looking for explanation and/or answers. Before he can escape, Rachel pipes up slowly, asking if the… manifestations are people who the person had wronged or hurt in some way. [JC: Does Rachel honestly believe she was responsible for her father’s suicide, when she was FIVE YEARS OLD? Because that’s fucking wild. And yes, I know we’re not quite up to what she actually walked in on in that bathroom, but . . . even so, she can’t actually think it’s her fault her father killed himself. She was fucking five. Again, what the hell.] [Dove: Also, why hasn’t adult thinking also kicked in? Like, for example, when someone is beaten as a child, they are often convinved by the adults they “deserve” it for being a “bad” child, but as they grow up and encounter media, experiences, other humans, whatever, that shows that the adult was wrong, even if they don’t fully process it, they academically acknowledge that the adult should not have done that. Again, this is what I hate about the “wrecked by dead parent” trope. It utterly relies on refusing to update your childhood reaction to something you could not fully comprehend. It makes characters who do it look either too stupid to revisit a trauma with expanded knowledge, or just willfully ignorant because they want to continue feeling this misplaced guilt. And I am fully blaming the writers here. It’s overused. I’m sure it does happen in real life, since pretty much every trauma does, but it’s so overused that it sort of becomes the default way to process things. “This is how I processed it aged five. That must be precisely right, as five year olds can totally comprehend war, PTSD, drug use, stress, depression, emotional episodes, and so forth.” And it gives an unhelpful implication (to me at least) that if you’re not utterly wrecked by something, and instead process it in quite a healthy way, you don’t have all the right feelings. You don’t love someone enough. You don’t feel enough. You are doing. it. wrong.]
Labraccio immediately assumes Rachel has seen/experienced something and jumps all over that. She brushes him off. At least Labraccio doesn’t push it. He heads to the living room. We are pointedly shown that photograph of Rachel and her father at the welcome home party.
Joe and Steckle are waiting in the living room, Labraccio tells them he thinks Rachel is hiding something from them. The three get in a bit of an argument until Steckle reminds everyone they need to keep the lines of communication open. You know, since Nelson lied to the group. I have no qualms calling my boy out. He lied and withheld info.
Labraccio makes apologies and says he’ll stay with Rachel. Steckle asks to make sure Labraccio is okay. Labraccio assures them he’s fine. I mean, seriously, it we rank rank the manifestations Nelson is #1 HIGH THREAT ALERT and Rachel/Labraccio/Joe are #4, because theirs don’t… do anything but… yell at them? C’mon. Joe and Steckle take their leave.
It’s morning. Nelson has sat up all night, waiting for Billy Mahoney to drop by for… round… um… four? Please note the screwdriver in his hands. I am so #teamScrewdriver. I think it was a running joke I had years ago. It’s all Nelson can do to not nod off. I’m pretty sure exhausting yourself is not the answer when dealing with a spiritual manifestation?
The camera zooms in on the screwdriver, Nelson tapping it erratically on the expensive wood flooring. Suddenly, it stops, his hands falling away. Uh oh. Nelson fell asleep.
We smash cut to the memories, Billy Mahoney cornered up the tree, Champ barking, Nelson and the other boys throwing rocks at the frightened boy in the red hooded sweatshirt. Nelson specifically yells out that they are going to “get him”. Billy Mahoney screams more and suddenly we smash cut to Nelson, who gasps awake.
Too late. Billy Mahoney is there. And has the screwdriver. Nelson yells but Billy Mahoney slams the handle of the screwdriver into his face, knocking him over. With that, Billy Mahoney disappears again and Nelson lays on the floor, probably questioning his life choices. [JC: I’m not entirely convinced guys like Nelson ever question their life choices.] [bat: Please just let me pretend that he’s not a one-note egotistical asshole who can’t believe he’d ever be wrong, JC!]
Smash cut over to Rachel, who is up and dressed and dawning a maroon lace shawl. She’s like proto-90s pre-grunge. She looks in the mirror. Danny stands behind her, bleeding and looking ghoulish. She turns around but she’s alone in the room.
Exiting the bedroom, we find Labraccio in a chair, reading. Rachel walks out and grabs her coat, brushing off his query of how she’s doing. She insists she’s late for her shift and has to “talk to her, has to stop her”. Labraccio can’t pull his boots on fast enough to catch Rachel.
We smash cut to the ward, where the older nurse greets Rachel. Rachel moves quickly towards the row where Mrs Amsbly was. Was as in the bed is empty and stripped. Mrs Amsbly has died. Rachel immediately breaks down, sobbing. She wanted to tell Mrs Amsbly the voices were wrong and that Rachel was wrong, and there is nothing beautiful after you die.
Okay, this is bullshit. You “died” but you didn’t die in the sense that it was your time to go, you twat. I think this is the point I was trying to make earlier. None of these deathateers were due to die, it wasn’t their time to die. They’re playing god and committing pseudo-suicide in a “controlled” situation that (so far) hasn’t any consequences except for bringing back manifestations of their sins. So in a way those are the consequences. They might get to live but now they’re haunted. God that is confusing as fuck.
The nurse tells Rachel that she has to get used to patients dying. It’s part of being in the medical field. Yeah, another reason I avoided it. I would internalize too much.
Smash cut to a schoolyard. Children are playing, swinging on swings, jumping rope, etc. It obviously the past; girls are all dressed in skirts and dresses and the clothing is all 60s-style. The camera weaves its way around the playing children until we descend upon a young African-American girl who is surrounded by four other children circling her, calling out nasty taunts as she sobs.
There’s two white boys and two African-American girls ganging up on the girl. One is very obviously lil Dave Labraccio. The four begin to push the girl around among them. Soon they have her pinned against a chainlink fence. It isn’t until this point that we can hear what they’re saying. Labraccio tells her to “cry, baby, cry!”
The scene slowly fades to present day. The schoolyard is empty, the concrete covered in a thick carpet of fallen leaves. Plastic sheeting covers parts of the surrounding buildings. Labraccio stands, outside the chainlink fence, staring at the playground. Yes, it’s a horrible thing he did as a child but I have a hard time believing that is the single worst thing he ever did in his life that would come back to haunt him. Children are cruel. Children are mean. I don’t want to start an argument about it. I just find it hard to swallow that this is the worst thing David Labraccio ever did in his life. [JC: I’m not convinced it’s supposed to be necessarily the worst thing he’s done. It’s possible it’s more just the thing he feels guiltiest about, and maybe that’s just being a bully in general and not even specifically about Winnie. Or maybe being a shitty bully is the worst thing he’s done. I don’t really see him as a terrible guy, so maybe this is the extent of his harmful behavior.]
Else where, Joe walks home alone, as workmen carry large canvases that depict a body, naked, in black and white. It almost looks like a mummy? But it isn’t. Some kind of art installation? A woman rounds the corner of a building and speaks to Joe, saying he looks like he’s enjoying the day. Joe is startled and tries to get away but the woman uses all the same shitty pickup lines Joe has used on a multitude of women. Unfortunately, Joe doesn’t seem to realize it, acting as if the woman is really hitting on him. Fucking idiot. [JC: Yeah, he should have figured this out way sooner.]
He enters the building of his apartment and into the entry way of his unit. A woman calls out to him from the corner of the room. Joe pauses, thinks he knows her. She repeats the same type of lines he used, telling him he could know her, that they don’t have to do anything but hold each other in their underwear.
Joe panics and enters his apartment, slamming the door. He turns and heads towards the staircase when yet another woman randomly appears. I think Joe has finally remembered this is how his sins are manifesting. Also, everything is lit in a similar blue light to what happens when Billy Mahoney shows up and smashes the crap out of Nelson.
Now it’s just a parade of women, repeating this absolutely shitty pickup lines that Joe used to gain trust and feign empathy so he could get into bed with all these women. Bleh. He slowly climbs the staircase as the stars of the Joe Hurley home porno library revisit him. He doesn’t look scared or chastened enough to me.
As he reaches the top, Joe yells, “You’re not real!” The women part and disappear, revealing Anne sitting in a chair, looking absolutely crushed. Golden light filters into the apartment. Joe can hardly believe his fiancee is here, looking back towards the stairs were like 20 women just were.
Anne starts to talk, sounding broken and distant. She says Joe sounded so upset on the phone when they talked prior to his flatline experiment that she took the bus up. Joe kisses her cheek and kneels beside the chair, please to see her. But FUCKING OBLIVIOUS to body language and tone of voice. He asks Anne how long she’s been here.
“Long enough to see your tapes,” she stammers.
And cue the camera turning to show one of the home pornos running on the small black and white television. Joe freaks and turns it off. Anne doesn’t even wait, she’s up and headed down the stairs, telling Joe that she knows he’s going to believe she’s leaving him for sleeping with all the women.
Joe chases after her, saying how all the women he TRICKED INTO HAVING SEX WITH HIM AND VIDEO TAPING IT meant “nothing” to him. Anne scoffs and laughs, it’s heartbreaking. She says she wishes Joe had had any inkling of feeling or care for the women he seduced, if he had a SHRED OF HONESTY, she could have thought she truly cared for him. But because Joe didn’t respect the women, LIED TO THEM, video taped them without their knowing, and doesn’t give a fuck, well, Anne asks how they can have a marriage when Joe has zero understanding of trust?
GIVE IT TO HIM, ANNE, BEAT HIM GOOD! [Dove: I’m always so pleased with her for pointing out it’s not just the cheating. It’s the fact he is a rancid cesspool of a human being that also cheats that ended their relationship.]
Anne removes her engagement ring and shoves it into Joe’s hand. He tries to stop her from leaving, saying it’s not what she thinks it is! “Yes it is!” She cries tearfully and walks out of Joe’s life FOR GOOD because ANNE IS A STRONG WOMAN WHO WON’T TAKE THIS KIND OF BULLSHIT! YAY!!!
Like, seriously, Joe doesn’t get all the consequences he deserves but he gets the one thing taken away that meant something to him. Now, I question how much Anne really meant because he serially cheated on her and didn’t respect any woman he slept with, plus repeatedly violated trust, so how could Anne believe he’d be different? And it proves through how she departs that she knows he wouldn’t respect or trust her and his affairs would continue well into their marriage. [JC: The female characters aren’t exactly what you’d call well fleshed-out, but I’m so glad they gave Anne the backbone to walk out. Like, if this were my fiancé I’m not sticking around to talk about this. Cheating aside, you’re also some form of sexual assaulter/predator, so we are very much through. We’re not getting back together and “working through” this shit. And there are way too many movies that would have gone that route.] [Wing: He did seem to weirdly care about her earlier, but I wonder how much of that was she wasn’t available to him at the moment. He wants to chase and doesn’t care once that ends. She’s physically not there, so it’s still kind of a chase.]
One down, three to go.
Over at Labraccio‘s, post-field trip to his former elementary school, he’s spent the afternoon cold calling every Hicks in the phone book, searching for Winnie. The page is full of names crossed out in red ink. It looks like he’s crossed out 30 names. Having reached an “Mrs Earl R. Hicks”, he says he has a weird question and to ask if she has a daughter around the age of 26, then explains who he is and how he would know Winnie. Labraccio says he wants to get in touch with her, scurrying to find paper and pencil to write down contact info.
All during this I am wondering how the fuck does he afford this massive apartment? I mean, really, how do ANY OF THEM afford these apartments, they’re fucking mansions. Even Steckle who lives in student housing has a super nice room. It boggles the mind. All aesthetics, movie magic, not reality. [JC: I’ve given up trying to figure these things out; it’s just a given at this point that everyone has rich parents footing all their bills or something. What I’m skeptical on is Winnie’s mom just handing out her daughter’s info to some strange dude on the phone. Like, this is how stalkers find people. I know it’s necessary to expedite the plot, but maybe don’t give out your daughter’s address to some random dude on the phone?] [Dove: I always assume that Nelson comes from a super wealthy family (everyone else is not quite so opulent, so Hollywood squalor?), but the end of the movie kind of flies in the face of that, doesn’t it?] [bat: I always assumed he was up to his eyeballs in debt and needed to get ‘famous’ to cover the credit card bills.]
We move to the inner staircase in Labraccio‘s building. Something moans softy and there’s a shadow of movement on the wall. Labraccio exits his apartment and stops cold. The camera whips around to show it’s only Nelson, shambling up the stairs, looking like he was run over by a truck.
“Looks as bad as it feels, huh?” Nelson quips as Labraccio moves closer. He asks if Nelson wants him to look at the wounds. Nelson brushes that off, says he only wants to know how Rachel is. (Sure. Sure sure sure sure.)
“Well, she didn’t come out of the bathroom with the answers to life and death,” Labraccio snarks, rightfully. Nelson stares, slowly remembering what he said the night before. Labraccio heads downstairs and not for the first time do we see Nelson crack. He begs to know where Labraccio is going, sounding weak and scared. He’s disheveled and his face is wrecked, and he’s had almost no sleep.
Labraccio says he’s headed to Bensonville. “Can I go?” Nelson asks. “It’s a two hour drive!” Nelson gives up and lays his cards on the table. “Look. I don’t want to be alone.”
You know things are real bad when Nelson fucking Wright practically starts crying and begging Labraccio to take him along on this weird field trip. The downfall of this character – who started out arrogant and egocentric before being reduced to a broken man with no answers and no protection from an 8 year old ghost child – is one of the best arcs in the film. I’d say it humbles Nelson but, no, not yet. Not humiliated enough yet.
That will come later.
BUT, with a SMASH CUT, we’ve moved over to the day’s classes… words failing me… it’s like 100 degrees in my house and my brain is just broken. Anatomy class? There’s bodies and they’re… DISSECTION OKAY THAT’S THE WORD.
And that’s how my brain works, just gotta work it out until the word shows up. [JC: I have to embarrass myself with all the wrong words before the right one comes. I keep talking about my boss being very forgettable before I cringe out “Forgetful! Not forgettable! He’s very forgetful!”] [Dove: How about when I didn’t know how to describe a house with three storeys (for both a British and American audience) and came up with “upper upstairs” until JC told me the word was “attic”?]
Anyway, it’s anatomy / dissection class and the instructor is announcing that they will remove a kidney and dissect the lower intestines. (Hm, shouldn’t Nelson be in class for this??) So, the camera pans around to show Rachel working on her donated cadaver all alone. Joe and Steckle, partnered because Nelson is a no-show, are working on their cadaver. Joe watches the instructor pass by before he pops over to Rachel, asking if she’s okay. She snaps at Joe, saying she’d be fine if everyone would stop asking her if she’s fine. Look, be bitchy about it, but 1) they nearly killed you and would have had a REAL HARD TIME explaining that to the school AND the cops and 2) I understand the frustration of being repeatedly asked something but at least it shows someone cares (?) okay maybe if it’s only out of self-interest on their part, but at least they’re asking. [Wing: Eh, they didn’t really pull the same sort of shit with Labraccio who also had a bad time coming out of it. Especially after all the other bullshit they’ve pulled toward her, I can see her being frustrated that they continue to treat her like this fragile thing instead of, you know, a fucking med student just like the rest of them.]
Joe gives Rachel a look then returns to his assigned cadaver. Rachel pauses, pressing the back of her gloved hand to her mouth, trembling. [JC: OH MY GOD RACHEL GET YOUR HAND WITH THE CADAVER JUICES ALL OVER IT AWAY FROM YOUR MOUTH WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!] Whether this is from her flatlining experiment or the fact she’s removing someone’s colon, who knows. (It’s the former. The former.)
Steckle immediately interrogates Joe as to Rachel’s current state, asking if she’s getting the “heebie jeebies”. Joe counters that he’s the one who’s spooked – WHY? WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU SPOOKED?? YOUR STORYLINE RESOLVED ITSELF! – while Steckle sharply points out that getting their asses kicked out of medical school will not get Anne back. Fair point.
The camera moves over to Rachel, slowly crawling closer as the rest of the background and other students fade out around her. Something that sounds like a music box plays as the red lights come up. This is a bad sign. Rachel puts down her scalpel and squeezes her eyes shut for a brief moment before opening them to find EVERYTHING BATHED IN BLOODY RED LIGHT. Admittedly, I’d be freaked out by that.
Looking down at the cadaver, the cheese cloth pulls back to reveal the right arm, which features a tattoo. A military tattoo that is strikingly familiar. Oh, right, it’s her dad’s tattoo. Rachel stares at it, panic brewing, before she looks at the cadaver’s cheese cloth covered face. The head begins to raise up from the table. Now the upper half of the body is sitting up, the cheese cloth falling away to reveal, yep, her dad. He reaches out his hand to her, his eyes glazed over in death, wordless as Rachel begins to whimper.
Cue absolute fucking freak out. Rachel knocks over the instrument table, sending tools everywhere, before she ping pongs between tables and out the door. The instructor yells after her, as Joe and Steckle run to the doorway. The instructor orders them back to their work or they will suffer consequences. There is a pause before Joe says “fuck it” and runs after Rachel. Steckle stares after him, mouth agape. Do we think he goes? Or does he stay? [JC: If he goes there will be trouble, but if he stays it will be double.] [Wing: I love that song.]
WHO KNOWS. We’re joining Labraccio & Nelson’s Lame Ass Apology Tour in progress. They’re driving down a shady, tree-lined grassy-dirt road. That was a weird description. Where ever the fuck they’re headed, it is far far far off the beaten path in Bensonville.
They come to a stop just down the lawn from a very large farm house. Nelson remarks that Winnie did well for herself but that she probably doesn’t remember Labraccio. Labraccio counters it’s worth a shot, attempting an apology. Yeah, I guess so. (As someone who was bullied through elementary school, I only vaguely remember the bullies. I remember what they did to me more then their names. It’s a fifty-fifty shot, Labraccio. [JC: Conversely, when I watched this, my reaction was that of course she’ll remember you; bullied kids always remember the kids who made their lives hell. I might not remember full names, but I could definitely get there based on a first name and a “Hey, I bullied you when we were kids.”] [Dove: I side with JC here. I remember full names. Hell, I remember full incidents and the weather when it happened.] [bat: Okay so I’m the weird one out. Not shocking.] [Wing: I’m more curious as to whether you’d want a former bully to show up and apologise. Would you actually want to see them? To me it seems like they’d just be doing it to alleviate their own guilt, which is pretty self-serving.] [bat: I’m with Wing on this.]) He asks if Nelson wants to come along, Nelson declines. Because what’s more awkward? Showing up to apologize for being a bully? Or showing up to apologize with a dude who’s been beaten up so badly someone might assume you did the beating, Labraccio?
On his way out of the truck, Labraccio orders Nelson to honk the horn if he needs him. Nelson, settling down to… I guess nap? in the seat, agrees to do so. Yeah. Sure. (I’m already laughing because I know what’s coming.)
Labraccio heads up to the house and Nelson’s already busted out the cigarettes. I should mention that Labraccio left the driver’s side window down. This is could an important note. Labraccio finds himself on the porch, ringing the bell. Nelson, from the truck, narrates. He thinks Labraccio should have just sent a letter. [JC: Nelson’s narration throughout this scene honestly cracks me up. He should narrate my life.]
No one answers the door, so Labraccio wanders around, calling out to see if anyone’s home. He shrugs at Nelson, just before the door opens and a young girl peeks around the threshold. “Is your mother at home?” Labraccio asks. “Coming!” Winnie calls from inside the house.
Stepping out onto the porch, Winnie pushes her daughter back inside and shuts the door. Staring at Labraccio, she doesn’t seem to recognize him. Can she help him? “Yeah, I think you can,” Labraccio answers, asking if she is indeed Winnie Hicks. DUH, you think? [JC: Always best to confirm. How awkward would this be if it were just some random woman?]
Labraccio explains who he is and that they went to elementary school together. You can already see Winnie does indeed know him. She plays it well. I should mention, since this movie loves its color cues, that golden light is dancing around, across the characters faces, dappling the porch. A good sign?
Pointing at his truck, Labraccio says he just drove up from the city. Right on cue, Nelson waves and yells, “Hello!” through the window. He furthers the conversation, speaking in a low voice, as though he were having the conversation with Winnie and not Labraccio.
“I’m nice, he’s nice, we’re both fucking lunatics. Can I come in, please?”
Where is the lie? [Dove: This is probably my favourite line in the movie.]
Winnie invites Labraccio into the house, which apparently surprises (?) Nelson. He admits Labraccio has guts. [JC: This is kinda where I realized Labraccio was Gryffindor.] Does it? I mean, yes, he does, but his “sins come to revisit him” aren’t… the same level as what Nelson is experiencing. They’re supposed to be different sides of the same coin, right? Well, Labraccio‘s… victim, for lack of a better term, is living and accessible. Billy Mahoney is fucking dead and therefore inaccessible. Or… is he? (I’M DOING MY OWN POINTLESS FORESHADOWING FOR FUN AND PROFIT!) [JC: *sigh* All right, get out the Ouija board.] [bat: What, so Billy can use it to smack the crap out of Nelson? Wedge that planchette right up his…]
The camera cuts to the woods around the truck, circling it as it sits in the dappled sunlight, the yellow leaves having drifted into piles across the grassy road. We move to low-to-the-ground bad guy POV, as though, OH I DUNNO, a child was running around the perimeter of the truck. Nelson, eyes closed and trying to get some sort of rest, is oblivious. I should think the fact the score takes on a sinister tone would make it obvious what’s about to happen.
Labraccio has been led into a massive glass greenhouse that is filled with various potted plants. (I can feel the sweltering humidity from here, ugh.) He comments that the setup is great and that Winnie has done well for herself. She deflects the praise, saying it isn’t medical school (HE DIDN’T MENTION HIS ASS WAS BOOTED FOR A THREE MONTH SUSPENSION, DID HE) but that she didn’t like school, “wasn’t good at it”.
Winnie is “surprised” Labraccio remembers her. Labraccio pipes up that he does and he remembers how he and his fellow bullies treated Winnie.
OKAY STOP RIGHT THE FUCK THERE. No you didn’t. You goddamn did not remember Winnie and how you bullied the shit out of her, Labraccio, until you were forced to. Because, apparently, it is your “greatest sin”, the one that’s come back to haunt the fuck out of you. Which, in honesty, is the second most pathetic of the four. Because Labraccio is supposed to be the “good” side of the coin and the most pure of heart (or something) the worst the writer could make him do is torture a classmate through taunting and hurtful words. Yeah, like, maybe it’s me and my own personal experience, but I’m pretty damn sure there’s a lot worse. (Like JOE for instance. Joe deserves way fucking worse payback for his sins. But no, just gets a goddamn slap on the wrist and his fiancee dumps him. Yay. Such consequences, much hurt.)
So after his memories are jogged by… whatever… and Labraccio remembers how he was a bully to a little girl in elementary school, now he has to make amends or… or what? What do he suffer? ABSOLUTELY ZERO. He’s only been taunted by the specter of Kid!Winnie once and it’s scared him so bad he spent a morning going through a phone book to track her down. Meanwhile, Nelson is having the living shit beat out of him by a supernatural 8 year old and Rachel is being haunted by her dead father.
In short, Labraccio‘s character growth arc is… less than zero. He’s always been a “good” person except for when he was a child bully, but he’s immediately attempting to rectify it so he can go back to being an atheist. This is literally weak AF. [JC: I suspect I like Kevin Bacon more than you do, so I might be biased here. (Or not. I don’t like him that much.) For reasons that are about to become clearer, I think the “hauntings” or whatever aren’t actually happening, and Labraccio just realizes he was a shit sooner than Nelson does, but also didn’t feel as guilty about it as Nelson, or else Specter!Winnie probably would have beat the living shit out of him instead of just hurling schoolyard insults at him. I think Labraccio is just being more proactive than Nelson, who doesn’t actually want to face his past. Maybe not a very exciting hero’s journey, but fitting for the character.] [bat: I don’t dislike Bacon, he is Earth’s Greatest Hero and all, but he’s not in the top ten on my list. That said, I think the “hauntings” are happening but I think you’re right that Labraccio is far more proactive about confrontation and “righting” things. Nelson just wants to be right not make shit right. Nelson has a fuckload of issues and the tie-in novel fleshes them out so much better.] [JC: I finally admitted defeat and googled “Earth’s greatest hero Kevin Bacon.” In my defense, it’s been a while since I’ve watched any Marvel movies, and I’ve never seen Footloose. Much like we can have fun playing “Which horror movies/franchises has bat never seen?” we can also play “What super popular 80s teen movies has JC never seen?”]
ANYWAY. “You were a little shy and I was a real jerk, and I’m sorry! I just wanted to say I’m sorry!” Labraccio stammers the fuck through a half-assed apology without actually getting to the heart of the deal.
Winnie deflects with a forced laugh, faking that she can’t remember what he could have done to her, it was so long ago. Um, not that long ago, you’re 26 or thereabouts! She doesn’t want to dredge up the past. Winnie directs her daughter, Sherry, to go in the house.
Labraccio won’t give it up. He wants Winnie to know that he knows they made her feel wrong. Okay. Stop speaking for the others who aren’t present, just speak for yourself, dumbass. Winnie stares at him, realizing this isn’t going to be over so simply, and orders her kid into the house. After Sherry is gone, Winnie gets real quiet and serious, telling Labraccio she has a family and is no longer that “ugly little girl”.
“Why did you come here?” She demands of Labraccio but HOLD THAT THOUGHT, WE NEED TO SMASH CUT OVER TO SHITTY BAD GUY POV IN THE BUSHES!
Yes, indeed, something’s lurking around the truck. Nelson, oblivious, opens his eyes and looks towards the empty porch. Labraccio isn’t back yet. An off-hand glance at the side mirror reveals something in a red hooded sweatshirt streaking through the leaves. Nelson immediately springs into action because it’s Defcon 1, people! Ghost boy attack imminent! [JC: Look on the bright side – maybe it’s just the killer dwarf from Don’t Look Now! (Is that yet another horror movie that bat has not seen? Place your bets now!)] [bat: Anyone who had “bat has not seen it” wins.] [Dove: I haven’t seen it either. But hasn’t it got Sutherland Senior in it?] [Wing: I haven’t seen it either, but this trailer (a) confirms Sutherland Senior is in it and (b) makes me want to watch it, so good job, trailer.]
Nelson tries to get a visual on Billy Mahoney but can’t, then realizes the driver’s side window is down, so he pounces to roll it up, smashing his face against the dirty glass, trying to see into the trees. INSTEAD OF DOING WHAT LABRACCIO TOLD HIM TO DO, HE STARTS YELLING. BECAUSE YELLING. INSTEAD OF HONKING THE TRUCK’S HORN. [JC: Nelson is terrible at following directions. “Honk the horn if you’re in trouble!” “Okay!” *sticks a finger up his own butt and proceeds to cluck like a chicken* “Like this?” . . . “Yes, Nelson. Very good.”] [bat: You’re going to make me defend him, aren’t you, JC? LOL I’m gonna say brain damage from that hockey stick and screwdriver incidents has made him lose short term memory, coupled with severe sleep deprivation. There. Plot issue solved.]
Back in the greenhouse, Winnie is deflecting more, saying children are mean little vermicious knids and default programming is cruelty. Labraccio attempts to say he didn’t come to see Winnie to make shit worse but Sherry shows up with her father in tow. He wants to know his wife is okay. Winnie hurriedly assures him everything’s peachy. (In the tie-in novel, Labraccio meets Ben upon entering the house. Ben offers him a beer but Labraccio declines, since he is driving. They have more interaction in the novel, but the outcome is basically the same.) Ben seems satisfied with Winnie’s answer and leaves.
Labraccio realizes it’s a good time to state his apology plainly and get out. He does so and takes his leave. Before he’s out of the greenhouse, Winnie calls out to him. She thanks him. Labraccio asks if she’s sure. Winnie gives a tiny nod. He thanks her and leaves. Amends made.
I dunno. It appears to be forgiveness given truthfully. A bit rushed, perhaps – we only have 20-some minutes left to solve Rachel’s daddy issues and Nelson’s murder ghost child – but sometimes forgiveness really is that simple. Not flashy, not a big production.
BUT WHATEVER, LET’S GET BACK TO NELSON HAVING A FULL BLOWN LOCKDOWN IN THE TRUCK. He stares through the clear plastic of the… canvas that covers the roof of the truck, seeing only trees. Glancing towards the bed of the truck, Nelson discovers one side of the back flap isn’t tied down. HOLY SHIT CALL THE COAST GUARD! (Okay, that is a deep cut joke only I can understand.) Still yelling for Labraccio, Nelson crawls through to try and tie the canvas down before Billy Mahoney gets in. Sure. [Wing: I love how he just won’t accept that Billy Mahoney doesn’t actually need to enter through open doors or windows or flaps. He just appears, Nelson. Come on.]
That’s when Nelson finally sees the horn and remembers instructions.
TOO FUCKING LATE. As soon as he moves to get to the horn, everything flips to sick blue hues and Billy Mahoney rises up between the seats with a fucking PICK AXE IN HIS HANDS. Damn you, Labraccio, for keeping all your goddamn mountain climbing gear in your truck! Nelson… screams? yells? Whatever. He tries to protect his face by bringing up an arm but Billy hits him with the pick axe, knocking him on his back into the bed of the truck. I feel like the pick axe did damage but it’s not shown yet.
Nelson grabs a metal baseball bat and uses it to fend off Billy, who tries to swing the pick axe and drive it into Nelson’s chest. The struggle for survival is on! Nelson manages to swing the bat and knock Billy back. Now it’s a grown man struggling with an 8 year old supernatural entity over control of a pick axe. Billy manages to smash the handle into Nelson’s face, knocking him back again, but Nelson keeps his grip, pulling Billy over, both still fighting for the pick axe. Unfortunately, this has put Billy atop Nelson. The little shit has supernatural strength, so it’s only a matter of time before he’s managed to aim the pointy end of the axe right over Nelson’s face. Billy actually manages an evil cackle and for once I kind of root for the kid.
Pushing all his weight on the pick axe, Billy manages to press the sharp point against Nelson’s ear, splitting open the skin as Nelson screams in pan.
And here comes Labraccio, yelling for Nelson. The world outside the truck is golden. Labraccio tries the door handle but finds it locked. He walks around the front of the truck only to hear Nelson screaming and to visually witness… Nelson grappling alone with the pick axe. Talk about awkward.
Labraccio breaks the window of his truck with a handy rock [JC: Okay, but did Nelson ever tie down the flap in the back? Because . . . why couldn’t Labraccio get in that way? Did I look away and miss Nelson securing the flap, or did Labraccio just really want to fuck up his own truck?] [bat: We’re never shown him tying down the flap, so I guess Labraccio just really wanted to break that window.] [Wing: Why the fuck doesn’t he have the key on him in the first place? I sure as shit wouldn’t leave it with Nelson, not as messed up as he is.] , reaches in and opens the door, and climbs inside. We hear Billy’s voice taunting as though from a far away, unreachable dimension, as Labraccio grabs the pick axe handle and tries to pull it away from Nelson. Nelson demands to know where Billy Mahoney is. Labraccio frantically tells Nelson there’s no Billy, they’re alone in the truck, and to let go of the pick axe. Nelson seems to shrink before our eyes as realization dawns. He lets go of the axe. [JC: Okay, see, this is why I think these physical manifestations aren’t real. Billy isn’t really there; he’s in Nelson’s head, and Nelson has actually been fucking himself up. I’m sure there’s something in the tie-in novel that will prove me wrong, but that’s where I stand – hallucinations brought on by reawakened guilt.] [Wing: If this theory is true, Nelson wins the prize for beating the fuck out of himself.]
It’s night again. The camera swivels around, showing the mural painted on the side of Labraccio’s building. Joe paces the sidewalk as Steckle bounces his feet as he sits on the stone steps. Labraccio’s truck pulls in, lights blazing, Nelson sitting in the passenger seat. Labraccio jumps out and Joe demands to know where they’ve been. Labraccio looks up to see Rachel standing at the top of the steps, by the light fixture. Also, why is the window blocked out with tinfoil? Weird. Apparently this building is ALSO student housing and I call bullshit on that.
Steckle tells Labraccio that Rachel freaked out and they’ve been with her all day. (I have my doubts about Steckle but I’m sure Joe has.) Labraccio greets Rachel, who comes down the steps and through tears tells him she keeps running into her father who’s been dead for 20 years.
“‘Death is beautiful’? What a bunch of crap!”
Enter Nelson, who’s holding a handkerchief to his severely damaged ear. He has a look of well-beyond the pale… or maybe “death warmed over” is more apt a description. Rachel gets in a good jab. “How you doin’ Nelson? You okay?” when CLEARLY HE IS NOT. Rachael 2, Nelson 0.
She goes on to “thank” him for the “nightmare”, as Labraccio, Steckle, and Joe stare at Nelson. Nelson snaps back, saying they were all SO FUCKING EAGER to jump his coattails. “Welcome aboard!” Rachel snarks that he withheld information which is the same as lying. (True.) “I’m sorry you’re so upset.” Nelson replies in a voice barely above a whisper. Joe yells about how Nelson isn’t the only one who’s risked or lost something because of this experiment. OKAY FUCK YOU, JOE, YOU’RE A GODDAMN SEX PEST AND IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE YOUR FIANCEE GOT WISE TO YOUR PHILANDERING WAYS SO JUST SIT THE FUCK DOWN AND SHUT UP. [JC: Also, Joe never has to make amends for his “haunting” to go away. Sure, Anne left him, which is consequences, but he never had to make amends to the people he wronged, so . . . double FUCK YOU, JOE.] [Dove: This. All of this. He just had to live with the outcome of his shitty behaviour, not acknowledge or apologise for it.] [Wing: They should have haunted him right off a tall building.]
Steckle chimes in that he always felt there was something profoundly unnatural about this experiment. YOU SIT AND SHUT UP, TOO, STECKLE. Joe yells at Steckle, the only one who HASN’T participated and the two dissolve into bickering. Nelson just makes amazing faces while staring at Rachel and Labraccio.
Labraccio tells them to stop it and that the fivesome are all in this together. Rachel snarls that they are not. She starts to walk away. Nelson goes for the jugular, taunting Rachel about how she’s so strong and independent. Rachel turns around and says she didn’t drag everybody down with her.
(Oh boy oh boy oh boy my favorite Nelson meltdown in… 3… 2…)
“Drag everybody down…!?” Nelson looks surprised. He turns and motions to Joe. “You got caught with your video tapes down?” then turns to Labraccio. “You swore at a little girl on a playground, oh!” then back to Rachel. “You’re having bad dreams about your daddy. I’M REALLY SORRY!” Oh the sarcasm just drips like acid.
“You don’t know anything about me, Nelson, you never have.” Rachel points out. (WELL NO ONE DOES, YOU’RE A GODDAM 2-D CHARACTER WITH A BUILT-IN SAD TRAGIC BACKSTORY THAT ONLY SERVES AS THE REASON FOR YOU TO BE INVOLVED WITH THE EXPERIMENT.) Nelson gets up real close and taunts her that Labraccio does. Labraccio knows her. (And this where I would smack Nelson.)
Rachel stomps off as Nelson yells after her, saying the manifestations are their sins, they have to live with them. He runs up and grabs Rachel, turning her around so his face is practically against hers, telling her she wants to see death? Take a good look. “It is beautiful!” And this is also where I would smack the crap out of Nelson for crossing the line, no matter how deranged he’s become from being almost-murdered by a ghost child.
Labraccio, Steckle, and Joe pull Nelson back, restraining him. Labraccio reminds Nelson he’s already hurt himself, does he want to hurt Rachel, too? (Okay, Dave, just because you saw him with a pick axe doesn’t mean you get to discount Billy Mahoney’s existence. You saw kid!Winnie so why disbelieve that Nelson doesn’t see Billy and have terrible physical fights with him?) [JC: Labraccio is probably following my line of logic – hallucinations brought up by the subconscious when they flatlined, sure they’re seeing ghosts of their pasts, but they’re not physically there.]
Directing Steckle and Joe to “help” Nelson find Billy Mahoney – because Labraccio thinks this will solve all problems, snort – and to not leave Nelson alone, Labraccio takes off after Rachel. Nelson quietly explains.
“Because young doctor Dave thinks he’s solved our karmic problems. Atonement, gentlemen.”
Labraccio has to run, again, after Rachel. He complains about it, again. Ugh. He wants to know why she always runs away instead of talking to him. We get a lot of non-acting from Roberts before a smash cut to Labraccio‘s apartment. Rachel’s sitting in a chair. She explains her father shot himself when she was five. Labraccio surmises that she feels responsible.
Long story short, there was a doorway she wasn’t supposed to enter and she went in. Labraccio says kids always feel responsible but that doesn’t mean she’s to blame. Rachel insists that he said that people they’ve wronged want revenge. This logic does not follow. Her father killed himself because she opened a door to a room he was hiding out in? OBVIOUSLY THERE IS SOME GIANT SECRET HE WAS HIDING. (Granted it’s more obvious if you are old enough to know someone who served during Vietnam, so maybe not obvious to viewers much younger.)
Labraccio starts telling Rachel about how asking Winnie’s forgiveness lifted a huge weight from him, he’s literally gushing with joy. Okay. Rachel points out Winnie is alive, her father isn’t. Labraccio puts his hands on Rachel’s shoulders and tells her that her father is in a “good place” and wants her to let him go. Um, you’re the atheist control subject, Labraccio.
They hug and Rachel does her teary half-crying bit, because this character has zero dimension. [JC: Is “token female character” a dimension?] [bat: “You’ve entered the Token Character Zone.”]
Meanwhile, tres caballero de la muerte are driving around the streets of Chicago in Joe’s… vintage Porsche? Mustang? (Wing?) [Wing: No idea. I love driving muscle cars, I don’t recognise makes and models just on sight.] Nelson announces,” Here.” Steckle can’t figure out where they are. He thinks they should take Nelson to a hospital to get his face looked at (aka his head examined.) Nelson grabs the keys before bolting out of the car. Steckle and Joe give chase. Nelson laughs maniacally, wandering down part of an alley, marveling that he remembers this shortcut.
He leads Bow Tie and Boner Man [JC: This is either the name of someone’s sex tape, or their high school rock band.] [bat: OMG I finally made that joke?? I hope it’s both.] through a series of alleys and tunnels and weirdness, calling out children’s rhymes and performing rituals as though he were 8 years old again. Finally Nelson climbs over a tall wall. “Salvation just ahead!”
Jumping the wall, Joe and Steckle find themselves in a cemetery. It is grim and dark, a sea of foreboding headstones, eerie light illuminating some. Nelson has disappeared. They begin to walk down a row, calling for Nelson. He finally responds.
They find Nelson sitting on the edge of an elaborately carved headstone that is covered in dead vines [JC: This headstone looks way older than, what, 17 years?], smoking a cigarette. “This is where Billy lives,” he waves the cigarette at the inscription. “Wake up, you little shit, you’ve got company!”
“You wanna know how I knew he was here? Because I put him here.“
CUE NELSON’S TRAGIC BACKSTORY SLASH FLASHBACK.
We return to the dumb past, where kid!Nelson throws more rocks at Billy Mahoney, who is cowering in the branches of a tree, begging Nelson not to do it. Champ barks. Kid!Nelson and the other boys laugh more. Kid!Nelson throws a big stone that… hits Billy in a way that knocks his grip off the tree and causes him to lose his balance, sending him falling from the tree and bringing with him a huge branch that lands on and injures Champ. Kid!Nelson runs up and observes a whimpering and broken Champ, as well as Billy’s unmoving body tangled in the remains of the branch. Blood flows from Billy’s scalp, implying a head wound. Oh dear.
[Dove: Trivia: This is a literal writing exercise. You are supposed to (metaphorically) “put your character in a tree, then throw rocks at them.” Obviously the literal equivalent works just fine too.]
We fade back into the present, Nelson kneeling before Billy’s headstone, explaining he was taken from his family when he was 9 years old and sent to Stoneham School for Boys.
(OKAY THIS IS WHERE I GET TO BUST OUT THE TIE-IN NOVEL TO GIVE CONTEXT! Oh goodie goodie, I’ve been waiting for this! I hope Dove has read her copy by this point.
The opening prologue of the tie-in novel is set some three years after the accident, where we find a 12 year old Nelson sitting day in, day out, in front of the school’s library computer. He constantly types in questions that it cannot answer: “What is the meaning of life?”, “Is there a God?” and “Is there life after death?” It is plainly noted he has an overactive imagination and no friends, preferring to sit alone in the library and play Dungeons & Dragons against the computer’s AI when not searching for the meaning of life and death. This is seriously pre-internet, so of course there is no Google to give “answers”. [JC: I don’t think Microsoft Encarta was equipped to answer those questions. Nelson should have sought out Deep Thought. 42, Nelson. Your answer is 42.] [bat: See, this is why a towel would have been more appropriate then my favorite screwdriver.] [Wing: One person playing D&D against the computer’s AI does not sound actually possible based on, you know, the entire point of the damn game.]
It is also plainly stated that at night, when all the boy residents are in bed and asleep, Nelson’s thoughts turn to death. Nelson thinks of his own body rotting in the grave, how people are only linked together by death, and what if there was something beyond death? Because that can’t be the end. Nelson one day has to go and have a “look-see”.
During the scene in the graveyard, it is revealed Billy Mahoney was born in 1965 and died in 1973. He was remanded into the custody of the State and removed from the family home to live in Stoneham School until he was 18. That actually might be else where in the book, I’m running on memories now.)
Steckle points out that it was an accident. He tries to get Nelson to go home. Nelson mutters that “Dave’s right,” chuckling that he can still make amends. Uh oh. “How?” Joe asks, as the camera focuses on Nelson, viewers seeing understanding dawn in his eyes. Only one way left in which to make a personal apology. [JC: . . . Ouija board . . . ?]
Nelson rises, slowly walking away. He yells that he has to borrow Joe’s car as he takes off running, the other two letting him slip through their fingers, because Nelson knows all the shortcuts and they’re too stupid to be serious about this. They hear Joe’s car start and drive away. Joe and Steckle are abandoned in a cemetery. [Wing: See? I said Nelson should never be let near the car keys.]
Back over at Labraccio and Rachel sleep, partly cuddling, post-sex. (THANK GOD I NEVER HAD TO SEE THAT HAPPEN.) Light shifts around the room, the bathroom door partly opened, as if something is calling to Rachel. She awakens with a start and looks at the bathroom, seeing the red light seep in. She gets up and enters, shutting the door behind herself, as the interior transforms into the bathroom of her childhood home. Her father sits in the same place he did pre-suicide, steam filling the air.
Labraccio bangs on the bathroom door, the… manifestation instantly disappearing. She opens the door. Labraccio informs her that Nelson “freaked out” and stranded Joe and Steckle. Labraccio has to go get them. He asks if she’ll be all right alone, before he kisses her goodbye. Rachel starts to turn back into the bathroom but stops, seemingly folding her hands in prayer. We watch Labraccio jump into his truck and hear him drive away.
Rachel has pulled on a bathrobe, walking towards the bathroom as it fills once more with red light. She walks past the door and suddenly finds herself in her childhood home, decorated as it was the day her father killed himself. She finds her mother ironing. Rachel turns and finds the staircase leading towards the room she was never supposed to enter. Slowly, tearfully, she climbs the stairs.
Entering the bathroom, adult!Rachel walks closer and closer towards her father’s hunched over form. The camera looks over his bony shoulder to reveal to the audience he is a heroin addict, using a spoon and a needle. He moves to inject the needle into his vein. Rachel looks away, realization now upon her. Her father, suddenly feeling her presence, slowly turns around. They both start crying. Rachel’s father apologizes and forgives her. They hug as the score swells in an emotional climax and the light turns from red to golden yellow.
Okay fine. I know that a lot of men who served in Vietnam came home with emotional trauma and addictions and hid their drug use out of shame. So it’s totally plausible that Rachel’s mother refused to talk about her husband’s heroin addiction and subsequent suicide with her daughter, choosing to let her daughter believe that she “killed” her father because she disobeyed and walked in on him shooting up. Her father’s death drove her to become obsessed with answers about the afterlife and made her uncomfortable and closed off to other people and relationships, compounded by her mother’s inability to explain the truth to her own child.
Is Rachel’s storyline really a “sin”, though? No. It’s not Rachel’s sin. It’s her father’s sin which his child is paying for. “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” Deuteronomy 24:16 [Wing: For God commanded “Honor thy father and thy mother,” and “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.” Matthew 15:4. In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Hebrews 8:13. Basically, people argue that the New Testament replaces the Old Testament (where Deuteronomy is located), and the new covenant in Matthew (in the New Testament) places death on children who don’t honor their parents, which in turn is often interpreted as obeying their instructions (some people go so far as to call them commandments). By not honoring what was requested of her, she has herself sinned.]
[bat: *blinks* Sometimes I forget Wing knows way more about the Bible than I do. Like, I was never subjected to legalistic Bible summer camps. Although I spent all of my school years up until the last 3 in private religious schools. Clearly, they totally did their job.]
In addition to being a fucking Halloween film, Flatliners is also a religious guilt trip. [Wing: Isn’t that a huge part of religion anyway? Especially Catholicism.] [bat: Oh yeah, Catholicism has a big lock on guilt trips.]
Labraccio comes roaring up in his truck, finding Steckle and Joe warming themselves by an oil drum fire under the raised tracks of the EL. They jump in the cab and Steckle fills in Labraccio that Billy Mahoney has been dead 17 years and “whether he actually is or not, Nelson feels responsible.” Dude, he is responsible. But it’s probably something like manslaughter, not pre-meditated murder. Perhaps third degree murder? I guess it depends on the State’s definition? This is where Wing will know more than I do. [Wing: Unlike Ned Wakefield, I don’t practice all types of law. But as a child that young, they might have found that he didn’t have the criminal intent (the mens rea) and couldn’t understand the harm he was doing such that it wouldn’t even be negligent manslaughter. And that’s about all I can pull up from my one criminal law class more than a decade ago.] [bat: Mens rea! I know that reference! Sorry, watched Legally Blonde last night. But totally agree, that’s a big plot hole since the outcome clearly shaped Nelson into adulthood.]
The race is on to find Nelson. No one seems to know where he went or would go. “How can you make amends with someone who’s already dead?” Joe asks. Realization hits Labraccio. He wants to know if Nelson would try to flatline without their help. “That would be suicide!” Joe replies.
DUH. DING DING DING, YOU’VE WON THE PRIZE, JOE. [JC: Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.]
The trio race off towards the Taft building.
Rachel, having made amends with her father, sits on the edge of the bed, smiling. Everything’s fine now! The phone rings. She answers, “David!”
“No, it’s Nelson.” Nelson is caught between snarling and crying. Rachel chides him, asks where he is, Labraccio is out searching for him. Nelson, crying, tells Rachel he’s sorry, and he sends apologies to Labraccio, that he’s sorry he involved the other four in his mad science experiment.
“None of that matters now!” Rachel gushes, riding the high of having regained her dead father’s love and approval. Nelson laughs miserably, saying everything they do matters. “That’s why I’m going under again.” Rachel tries to stall out, begging Nelson to tell her where he is. He apologizes one last time and hangs up on her, stalking from the phone booth, on his holy quest to make amends with a dead 8 year old boy. The karyatides stare on in silence as Nelson speeds up before breaking into a dead run, aimed at the dog lab.
At this point, you can say Nelson feels like his only option is to die. To rid himself of the specter of Billy Mahoney, to rid his “friends” of the albatross Nelson has become, to rid the world of himself because obviously he’s failed at everything. Basically it’s suicide, as Joe aptly put it (wow, Joe, you actually got something right for once?) and this part of the story has always bothered me. It’s not a noble sacrifice, it’s Nelson being a full on fucking coward instead of standing up to the 8 year old ghost bully and saying, HEY I’M SORRY BUT IT WAS A TERRIBLE ACCIDENT. [Wing: But was it? I don’t mean legally, but morally, he intentionally set out to harm the kid, even if he didn’t mean to kill him. The accident part would be more like injuring Champ.]
The tie-in novel bends towards Nelson being a hardcore bully but having no pre-mediated intent to kill Billy. It states he screams in horror as Billy screams while falling from the tree. It also states that Nelson “did this thing” aka killed Billy and injured Champ. But still, no pre-meditation. In that sense, Nelson and Rachel share unfounded guilt they’ve taken on over the death of another person. Rachel did not know her father was a heroin addict; she did not see him fire the gun, nor did she put the gun to his head. She only knew that she broke a rule about staying away from that particular door in the house. Nelson, on the other hand, picked up the rock, threw that rock at Billy, and knocked him from the tree which resulted in his death.
I guess that gives Nelson more culpability in Billy’s death than Rachel has in her father’s death. But still. Am I making my point? Killing yourself in order to appease a ghost is not the answer. [JC: Where is Jennifer Love Hewitt when you need her? Get thee to a Ghost Whisperer, Nelson. (Since no one wants to take my advice about the Ouija board.)] [bat: I think you just inadvertantly “solved” things for Joe. Big boobs AND a ghost whisperer!? Joe’s died and in heaven!] [Wing: Well, if he grew up religious, death for death could be something he was taught what with that whole “eye for an eye” thing that gets misinterpreted a lot.]
BUT ANYWAY. We return to Labraccio, Steckle, and Joe, who are speeding towards the Taft building, in suspiciously empty Chicago streets. Steckle makes an observation: “We’re being paid back for our arrogance.” Joe tells him to save it. I, honestly, have to agree with Steckle. You mess with shit you don’t understand, and especially when you get your ego involved and think you’re a master of whatever subject, yeah well you’re going to get bit in the ass. IT’S CALLED CONSEQUENCES. [JC: Joe is the type of guy who has never suffered a consequence in his life.] [bat: I really wanna know if Anne ever told anybody or just kept it to herself, thus protecting Joe more. Ugh.]
Nelson comes speeding into the Taft building, racing through the construction / restoration work, always looking over his shoulder. I guess he thinks Billy might appear? Or the others might stop him?
Rachel exits Labraccio’s building, running as fast as she can. (In the tie-in novel, Labraccio’s building is supposedly clear across town from the school. But the fact that distance is never truly defined, does that even matter?)
Back to Nelson, who is gathering all the equipment into the dog lab. Like, okay, they just leave it there? Where? How do the workers not notice? Not report all this EXPENSIVE MEDICAL EQUIPMENT JUST LAYING AROUND? Nelson fumbles with a vial that has POTASSIUM written across the label, what, so the audience knows what he’s using? I’m pretty sure most don’t know what it is. Also: POINTLESS FORESHADOWING FOR FUN AND PROFT.
They don’t show how much he withdraws into the syringe but it’s a boatload of the stuff. A bit of googling for context does present a case of attempted suicide using potassium chloride to induce a heart attack. So, yes, theoretically plausible. I mean, Nelson can’t defib himself into death, he’s alone.
Smash cut over to the trio in the truck. Steckle is rambling, obviously in order to hide his fear of Nelson’s impending suicide, by mumbling about how he’s glad he didn’t flatline because his “three hundred and fifty pound babysitter would be chasing him around with a half-eaten pastrami sandwich” he stole from her. Um. I know this is supposed to be comic relief but it’s not particularly funny now. [JC: I’m actually really curious what Steckle would be haunted by.] [bat: I wish Platt had had to content with a haunting, it would have been absolutely unintentionally hilarious.] [Wing: Fuck you, Steckle.]
OKAY. Nelson’s on the gurney. For some reason, which I don’t understand, he’s covered himself in the cooling blanket. If he’s not intending to come back, why fucking bother? He’s stripped down to his white t-shirt and scrub pants, tied a tourniquet around his arm and begins to inject the potassium chloride. He actually taunts Billy Mahoney to “come on”. Like, yes, please taunt the ghost child, that makes sense. Also, OH MY GOD THAT IS A FUCKLOAD OF POTASSIUM CHLORIDE! The huge barrel of the syringe is almost half full. Fuck.
Nelson keeps flooding it into his veins, grunting with effort and from the pain until the syringe is empty. He bothers to rub the spot to stop the bleeding. (Why?!) Suddenly it starts to hit him. He pulls the cooling blanket up (it’s turned on, by the way, WHY?!), undo the tourniquet, and with the last bit of strength grabs the nitrous oxide mask, and switches it on. The camera does a severe closeup of his eyes as he breathes the nitrous in. He looks around wildly before it kicks in, his eyes fluttering closed for the last time.
The mask falls away and Nelson is… unconscious? For some reason we are shown an EEG line, blipping away. Now I’m pretty damn sure I didn’t see any electrodes on him. We get a weird montage of Billy’s headstone, kid!Nelson running through the field, Billy Mahoney attacking Nelson, more EEG lines, now kid!Nelson has taken the place of Billy Mahoney, who is chasing kid!Nelson across the field, now the EEG lines are erratic and making a staccato noise… finally some weirdness involving Nelson that I guess is supposed to signify that he has died and crossed back over just as the EEG line goes flat.
Labraccio drives his truck practically up to the front door of the Taft building, dodging construction barriers. All three jump out and run inside, leaving the truck sitting there with its lights blazing. I dunno, call me weird, but I’m pretty sure THAT WOULD GET NOTICED AND CALLED IN. They run into the building and down the same path Nelson took to the dog lab, finding him dead on the gurney.
“POTASSIUM! HE USED POTASSIUM!” Steckle practically shrieks as Joe and Labraccio look over the situation. From this point on, things move fast back and forth between reality and Nelson’s own personal hell. Like way too fast for me to note every time it happens. So I’ll just kind of… paraphrase. [JC: Movie editors hate recappers and do everything possible to make our lives more difficult.]
In death, kid!Nelson is still being chased across the field towards the huge dead tree. Billy Mahoney leads the chase, screaming and taunting him. Now kid!Nelson is climbing the tree, out along a thick branch. Everything has turned grey and dark. Kid!Nelson cries and pleads with Billy to stop, but Billy throws a round rock.
In reality, the three third year medical students bring the gurney around over the grate and flip the blanket to warming, bringing up Nelson’s body temperature as Labraccio rips open the t-shirt and charges the paddles. (SEE!! SEE!! THE BRA IS A GODDAMN LIE!!) He hits Nelson with 300 joules. Steckle is listening for… I should know this but it’s not coming to me. He’s using the stethoscope to listen for… a pulse? I guess? [JC: A heartbeat?] Damn, oh well, it’s not working. Labraccio hits Nelson with the paddles again. Rachel runs up past the truck, the lights still blazing away, and hurries up the steps. She enters just as Labraccio hits Nelson with 360 joules and Steckle announces he cannot hear anything through the stethoscope.
Rachel comes to a stop, looking at her watch. She says Nelson called her and it’s been over nine minutes. “NINE MINUTES!?” Steckle asks incredulously. Well, Nelson got what he wanted, the longest flatline. [JC: Play stupid games, win . . . oh, wait, I already said this, huh?]
Labraccio announces they’re going to intubate. He begins chest compressions as Rachel tries to insert the laryngoscope and tube. She cannot proceed as the trachea is too tight. Oh, when the fuck did the electrodes get put on Nelson’s temples? I DON’T REMEMBER HIM DOING THAT. Joe orders her to try again as he puts his fingers on Nelson’s throat and massages it? Squeezes it? Labraccio does another set of compressions. Does this work? Nope.
But we need to check back in with kid!Nelson, who is screaming in fear as Billy Mahoney does his best villain laugh, throwing more stones at kid!Nelson.
Steckle pushes epinephrine as Labraccio completes another set of chest compressions. Intubation is abandoned; Rachel performs mouth to mouth. They all stop to look at the EEG, which is still flatlined. The warming blanket has brought him up to 80 degrees. Labraccio orders 4 milligrams of atropine readied. Steckle freaks out but readies the injection. Rachel and Labraccio give another round of compressions and mouth to mouth. Rachel looks at her watch. She tries to get Labraccio to realize how long Nelson’s been dead and time is really running out. Steckle announces he has the “truckload” of atropine ready. Labraccio orders it delivered intertrachyal. All I know is Rachel just shoved a huge fucking needle into the base of Nelson’s throat and it hurts just watching it. And I regularly used to received injections to the intercostal spaces of my sternum.
Everyone stares at the EEG but nothing. No blip. Labraccio keeps talking aloud to Nelson, demanding he come back. Dude, you may be a spectacular surgeon one day but this may be the day God wins and you lose? [Wing: But he doesn’t believe in god, right? 😀]
Steckle announces Nelson’s been dead 10 minutes. Joe is listening for any sounds with the stethoscope. Rachel calls out for bretylium but Labraccio nixes it, since Nelson is not in v-fib. Joe announces no sounds of blood pressure. Rachel has filled another massive needle and calls out epinephrine inter-cardial. Steckle objects but Labraccio nods and tells her to do it. Rachel shoves the needle into Nelson’s chest, into… his heart? Or maybe the sac around the heart? LOOK I’M NOT A DOCTOR BUT I JUST GOOGLE EVERYTHING.
Back in Nelson’s personal hell, Billy Mahoney has selected the same rock kid!Nelson selected for the final blow. Kid!Nelson is screaming no, Billy is laughing like a villain on Batman: the Animated Series, and my god is this over yet? Kid!Nelson screams he’s sorry, tears streaming down his cheeks. Billy flings the rock hard, hitting kid!Nelson in the arm and knocking him off balance. He begins to fall forward off the tree limb and into the open air. As he passes by another branch, kid!Nelson transforms into adult!Nelson, who is yelling and waving his arms trying to break his fall. Somehow, his t-shirt is ripped open even though he totally went into death with it not ripped.
AM I COMPLAINING? NO. JUST POINTING IT OUT.
(Also, how much time has Sutherland spent being hurled through the air in movies? Like, clearly there was a lot of wire work and hanging upside down in The Lost Boys, now all this free-falling in Flatliners. Geez.)
Nelson crashes to the ground in a crumpled heap at the base of the huge tree. He rolls over and appears pretty dead.
Labraccio begins CPR compressions again. Steckle yells out, “IT HAS BEEN TWELVE MINUTES. HE IS DEAD!” Rachel complies and gives another breath but Joe flips out, telling Labraccio they’ve lost Nelson. Labraccio really flips out and begins to pound his fist on Nelson’s chest, screaming at his corpse. They literally stand there and let Labraccio beat the shit out of Nelson’s corpse. Rachel just screams at him and tells him to stop. What the fuck. No wonder Bacon broke one of Sutherland’s ribs! [JC: This scene makes me laugh so hard. Yes yes, Dave, just beat the (un)living shit out of him; what year of med school do they teach that method in?] [bat: We’ll call that the “Labraccio manouver”.] [Wing: DYING. (Not as much as Nelson, though.)]
Labraccio screams some more, I get his frustration, he’s been built up and petted and praised as one of the best students this medical school has ever seen and he saved a life that resulted in his suspension but here he is, unable to save a friend. (A friend who was bent on dying but none the less.) Rachel quietly tells Labraccio, “Let him go.” in a quavering voice.
He stomps away, kicking the nitrous tank over and hitting the wall of gloves, as Joe and Steckle stare at Nelson’s corpse. Rachel has turned her back on him. “We are all responsible for this,” Steckle observes solemnly. “Maybe we deserve this,” Joe answers. “It’s not fair and it’s not right!” Labraccio snaps. “I’m sorry, God, I’m sorry we stepped on your fucking territory!” And this is coming from the avowed atheist.
Okay, look, life and death aren’t fair and death is inevitable. Though, seriously, shame on Nelson for putting his “friends” in the position of having to explain this to the authorities.
“I’ll call the police,” Joe says, taking actual responsibility for once. Rachel turns around, crying, saying how she could hear in his voice that Nelson felt he deserved to die. This is enough to have Labraccio call bullshit, that Billy Mahoney’s death was an accident. And that’s when he runs back and grabs the paddles and defibs Nelson as the others try to stop him.
Now we have returned to hell. Nelson is still lying there, at the base of the tree. (I stare, because I can’t help myself.) The wind blows hard as Nelson suddenly jerks to life. He sits up, staring at a hooded figure who looms over him, Champ sitting beside. It’s Billy Mahoney. Nelson stares back in wary silence. Billy removes the hood as the light comes up and illuminates his face. He smiles at Nelson. Nelson smiles in return. Apparently they have come to a truce or peace or whatever in this long silence.
Billy turns and begins to walk away as Champ falls off the rock before both enter the great white light just beyond the tree. (SEE! THERE IS A BRIGHT LIGHT AND A SUPPOSED TUNNEL, JC! [JC: Eh, probably just a lens flare.] [bat: *J.J. Abrams has entered the recap*]) Billy waves then disappears. Nelson rises, staring in wonder, slightly confused. Suddenly there is a loud noise then he can hear his “friends” calling for him, begging for him to return.
Okay, wait, rewatching that, Billy is beckoning Nelson to follow him, not waving! OKAY THIS SUDDENLY MAKES MORE SENSE. That’s why Nelson can see the white light slash tunnel, he’s dead! He’s being welcomed into the afterlife! (Seriously, I never paid that much attention until I had to recap this movie.) But the intrusion of life, his “friends” working to bring him back to life, that’s distracted Nelson from his final resting place. [JC: I won’t laugh at you for not realizing this til now, but I’m totally laughing at you for not realizing this til now. Thanks for the laugh? (Seriously, I’ve watched Fright Night SO many times, but there were things I’d never noticed before until I paid “recapping attention” to it.)] [bat: Feel free to laugh. I really did never connect it until now. My only excuse is shirtless Sutherland so fucking distracting.]
Here I thought he was just gonna stay in that shitty tree-filled limbo all these years. Oops? [Dove: I’m actually with you, bat. I completely missed that bit too.]
Nelson begins to run away from the light, away from the trees, back through the open green field. We hear Labraccio, Joe, Steckle, and Rachel urging him on, to live.
Suddenly, a blip appears on the EEG. Labraccio has the paddles in hand, calling clear, ready to defib. Rachel screams “Wait!!” and leans over Nelson, listening for sounds of breathing. Joe has a pulse! “We got him! We fucking got him!” Labraccio urges Nelson “pick up the beat”. Rachel and Steckle ready the oxygen, Rachel demanding nobody rush Nelson as she puts the mask to his face. Look, lady, YES RUSH HIM SO HE FUCKING LIVES.
Steckle mops his face with his scarf, smiling widely, relief rushing in that he will not be tried for manslaughter and probably will become a doctor after all. Yay.
Nelson enters REM and condensation appears on the oxygen mask. Everyone starts smiling at each other as they’ve totally pulled off a fucking miracle. Steckle crosses himself, mumbling random Catholic phrases before ending on “Oh, thank you, Jesus.” Rachel says, “Hi, Nelson,” as he tries to speak. Steckle wants to get it on tape, but Labraccio knocks his hand and the mini cassette recorder away. Nelson tries to speak but really isn’t able to do much more than barely whisper. Labraccio leans in to hear him.
“He said it wasn’t such a good day to die.”
The four other Deathateers share glances, some solemn, others giddy. Look, you all better be happy you’re NOT MURDERERS and NOT RESPONSIBLE and God help you if any of you ever talk about this nightmare week of experiments.
Nelson manages to speak. “Thank you.”
The camera pulls back to show the tableau, the four “friends” surrounding Nelson, now resurrected, illuminated by the work light. The image fades out into the painting of Prometheus receiving fire from the gods, because SYMBOLISM. The camera continues to pull back to reveal the other paintings on either side – I don’t know what’s happening in them but I think I mentioned it way back at the beginning. Maybe because there’s five, each represents one of the Deathateers? I dunno. Maybe I’m reading into it. I DO LOVE SYMBOLISM.
It is implied that the restoration of the Taft building is completed. Credits begin to roll, white text over top the image, as the music swells and the choir harmonizes. Wow, there’s 11 names listed as “Joe’s Women”. Oh good god. [JC: What an auspicious role to brag to all your friends about.]
The image fades and the credits roll on.
I feel like I just went to hell and back in a hand basket of my own making.
Damn. You know, watching this movie for fun is one thing. Breaking it down, googling the living fuck out of it to make sense of the medical scenes, checking the tie-in novel for substance and background… it wiped me out. I should know better then to choose films I love. But, having just participated in a recap of The Lost Boys with two of my nearest and dearest friends, I guess it’s the season of picking apart movies I love.
The Lost Boys got off easy. I only had to recap the last third of the film.
I can’t ever truly explain why Flatliners appeals to all my sensibilities. It isn’t the greatest film. It’s a time capsule film, that’s for sure. It skirts the edge of religious and moral debates, never going too far in either direction. It’s very aesthetic looking. I think I’ve covered most of the reasons it appeals to me but could never sum it up singularly.
Of course, because Hollywood can never leave well enough alone, in 2017 the film received a… well… no one can agree, really. It was first stated to be a remake. Then it was a reboot. Then it was an updated reboot because medical technology has advanced far beyond what they were working with in 1989-90. THEN IT JUST SPIRALED THE FUCK OUT OF CONTROL BECAUSE SUDDENLY SUTHERLAND SIGNED ON SO LET’S CALL IT A SEQUEL! [JC: I have yet to fully understand the nuanced differences between a remake and a reboot. I always assumed remake = single film, while reboot = remaking a film series, but it became clear pretty quickly that that’s incorrect, so . . . ]
But not to play Nelson Wright. No. Now he would be playing Dr Barry Wolfson.
Yeah, I don’t even want to tell you the rollercoaster of anger I rode though all this. The further on it went, the worse it got. I refused to see it in a theater; I won’t give money to shit like this. Unfortunately, it required the help of some Russian websites but I managed to track down the deleted scenes, because, of course, that’s basically what they did to all of Sutherland’s scenes in the film, minus just showing him wandering around “advising” the medical students in this film.
As far as you can piece it together, it was intended to be a wink and a nod to the original film, Sutherland showing up. But as shit rolled along, the director decided fuck no, forget it, and excised the in-joke and relegated Sutherland’s role to a ha ha we have one of the original film’s actors in this! Which is fucking stupid.
Dr Barry Wolfson is supposed to be a new identity [JC: Witness Protection?], or it would have been, had they gone with plan A. Nelson, now Barry, teaches… something… at this much different medical school in CANADA. In the deleted scene, he confronts the students on a suspicion that they are flatlining and tells a “story” that is supposed to reveal he’s really Nelson Wright and KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT FUCKERY THESE IDIOTS ARE UP TO.
But that’s deleted. So who cares. Also, THIS HAPPENED:
Good god, who the fuck signed off on this? That wig is horrible. The glasses make no sense. HE HAS A GODDAMN CANE I KID YOU NOT. [Dove: He looks like the bad guy from Mutant X. Might even be the same wig.]
Look, I “watched” the 2017 – aka I fast-forwarded it until I saw the one face I cared about, then continued to fast forward until I found myself in the credits – and as far as I know, the storyline is similar in the “hot young 20-somethings who aren’t yet doctors think they can play God and decide to visit the afterlife but things go HORRIBLY WRONG” vein. I dunno, is it spoilers to say that the “sins” revisited upon them are a dead sibling, an aborted baby, a man who died through medical negligence, and a woman who was cyber bullied… no, I am not making any of that up. That’s it. That’s the plot.
[Dove: There was a character I kept expecting to be important. Oh, he’s the male lead in Awkward., I’m sure he’ll get a line in a minute or have a dark past… WAIT, HE’S AN EXTRA? That was probably the most interesting thing about the whole movie. That you can go from male lead of a popular MTV teen show for six years… to extra in a piece of shit reboot nobody asked for in the space of a few years. I mean, at least the mum from Awkward. is in Hallmark movies.]
The only “twists” are post-flatlining the participants “remember” talents and whatnot they abandoned or forgot and one of the participants actually does die. Because all the hauntings are actually violent aka Billy Mahoney. But the end is basically one of the participants pulling a Nelson and refusing to admit / face up to the “sin” and suiciding via flatlining until the others “save” her. Yeah. Sorry, did I spoil the stupid film? Mostly. The making amends plot part has a lot more surprises, according to the wiki.
Trust me, it’s all stupid.
If it had been up to me, it would have been… well, something akin to what they’re attempting with the newest attempt at a Ghostbusters reboot. A new generation, sure, but with the original characters in secondary supporting roles. The fact that *only by technicality* Nelson appears in the… whatever you want to call the 2017 film… doesn’t count. It’s a step in the right direction but it was ruined by a director who didn’t “bring his balls” to the film and chickened out.
I would have very much shown the five originals and what they were up to in modern times. You know Labraccio would have been head surgeon of some hospital, probably in the emergency department. Joe, well, Joe would have a specialty practice and be married to some beautiful trophy wife but totally having repeated affairs on the side, finding
victims lovers through the internet. Steckle would have written a best-selling non-fiction book about his “genesis of a young surgeon” but have run dry for follow up book ideas, while maintaining a medical practice possibly tied to the hospital where Labraccio works. Rachel? Well, Rachel ended up going into holistic healing and runs a tiny practice out of a remodeled / rezoned house, possibly the brownstone she grew up in, and things didn’t work out with Labraccio, who’s totally married to his job. [Dove: I see Steckle as having a secondary career as a sci-fi/thriller writer. Y’know, probably dealing with the science/supernatural overlap. But the others hate his books, because he never experienced those things he writes about so loftily.]
Nelson? What would my dear Nelson be doing? Well, it could go two ways:
1) He’s head of some big medical company that commands millions of dollars in funds towards cancer research or whatever, is on the cutting edge of technology, and has married a much younger woman who is a part of the medical industry in some fashion, who hangs on his arm at the $1,000 a plate dinners Nelson is constantly attending to raise funds and/or lobby. This could go into a clash with Labraccio, who’s probably head of the ER at the county hospital, which is run down and needs some sort of equipment or whatever that Nelson’s company can provide but won’t because profits.
2) After suffering from the after effects of his attempted flatline suicide, Nelson’s health is fragile. He finishes medical school but knows he cannot withstand the demanding schedule working in the medical field as an ER surgeon. He’s not into working in a specialized field, either. So he turns to teaching. Because his ego is big enough and he’s clearly smart enough to train up new generations of medical students. (Which, in the 2017 film, is basically what happens, but the character is totally wasted onscreen.) He comes into contact with Labraccio when Nelson is forced to suspend or expel a student for pulling a stunt just like Labraccio did during his third-year. He is also still friends with Joe and Steckle. Steckle constantly bothers Nelson to write a book about the flatlining experiment but Nelson refuses, having learned that fame and glory aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. [JC: Probably closer to this than the former. I also see a string of spectacularly failed relationships/marriages. I’m not so sure Steckle is super cool with Joe anymore, seeing as how disgusted he seemed by finding out about his extracurricular sex pest activities. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part. Guys, dump your sexually predatory friends!]
Now, how you’d build a film with new characters flatlining around all that, I don’t know. The 2017 attempted and fell flat on its face. But what does it matter, I’m pretty damn sure it will be another 30 years before Hollywood attempts another remake/reboot/pseudo-sequel to the film.
I think I will end this here, since I probably could keep going but the film is over. So’s this recap.
[JC: I have nothing more to add. This is bat’s movie, and I’m grateful and in awe of the effort and detail she puts into talking about the things she loves. *standing ovation*] [bat: Aww, thanks, JC! I’m glad you came along for the fun!] [Wing: Excellent, detailed recap, as always.] [Dove: Now I kind of want to brainstorm bat’s basis for the sequel/reboot/whatever we call it. But I’ve had a lovely time. I love it when bat goes super in depth with the details.] [bat: We can call it Flatliners 2: Electric Boogaloo, Dove. I’m glad you all enjoyed yourself and I hope we all never have to perform the Labraccio Manouver.]