The question of “heaven” and “hell” has puzzled theologians for centuries, offering descriptions as varied as “a heaven of lush meadows, fragrant flowers, and indescribable beauty” to a “soul sleep,” wherein the soul of the physically dead simply sleeps until the “eschatological judgment” of the final days.
The motion picture industry, even from its earliest days, has offered a multitude of depictions of the after-life. A nascent industry in 1902 screened “The Devil’s Kitchen” for the movie-going public and as recently as 2005 released “Constantine.”
This paper will offer a variety of theological interpretations of life after death and hold them up against the flickering light of Hollywood. All the films cited will be English-speaking films made specifically for theatrical release in the United States. This, unfortunately, eliminates such made-for-television movies as “Five People You Meet in Heaven” and television shows with a spiritual theme, such as “”Highway to Heaven” and “Touched by an Angel.”
It is not the intention of this paper to criticize these films for their lack of sound theology. The movies were made solely for entertainment purposes, not as cinematic tracts for evangelism. However, the culture of Hollywood is pervasive and goes far in determining how movie-viewers think and act. An academic investigation into their possible theological extrapolations can prove valuable in understanding how laypersons perceive the afterlife.
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
- John 14:6 (NIV)
“All dogs go to heaven. . . Dogs are naturally good, loyal and kind.”
- All Dogs Go to Heaven
The Christian heaven is biblically described as being “up there” from which God is implored to “Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place.” It is where the angels dwell and where you can be with and see God as God is. Heaven is a “wedding banquet,” yet there is work to be done.
Apparently, heaven is also a bureaucracy, similar in appearance to the Department of Motor Vehicles and perhaps serving as a cinematic purgatory, a place “which will exist until the last judgment; where the souls of those who die in a state of grace (but not yet free from all imperfection and sin) make expiation for unforgiven…sins.”
For the sake of a story, there must be conflict and resolution, which usually means a change in the main character. This is contrary to Stanley Grenz’ argument for “soul sleep,” a theory postulated in the 14th century by Pope John XXII that “the human soul simply sleeps after death, awaiting the eschatological judgment and the eternal state beyond.” Grenz writes that any post-mortem experiences change the person who lived on earth and “the resurrected person who meets God at the judgment is not identical with the earth person.”
In Oh, Heavenly Dog, no such sleep state is given to Chevy Chase, as he finds himself, after being murdered, greeted by Mr. Higgins, his counselor for the IDEC - the Intermediate Destination Evaluation Center. His file is reviewed using the computer technology of 1980 – black and white screens with simple text in green. Clearly, heaven can barely keep up with the technology on earth, as witness the “Star-keeper” in the 1956 version of Carousel, who maintains a file on everyone via a large ledger-like book.
The deceased in Oh, Heavenly Dog continue their bureaucratic sufferings as they stand in long lines with their forms in hand, being careful not to lose their “Computer Identification Number.” Chase must even sign an acknowledgement that he is dead, agreeing to all conditions and terms thereof, while heavenly bureaucrats discuss NTT (natural termination time), MM (marginal material – souls which must be sent back to earth) and FAA (Final Assessment Assignment, which will determine if the spirit goes up to his final reward or down to eternal damnation). Chase’s FAA – “reincarnated” as a dog, because his former body “has a hole in it” - will allow him to solve the mystery of his death, allowing him to go to his final reward.
Reincarnation, a primary belief of the Hindu and Buddhist religions, which holds that those who didn’t live a good life in this go-round must be sent back to try again, is also the theme of Defending Your Life. The philosophy of reincarnation is contrary to the Christian belief in that once you are “born again” in Christ, you have a place ensured for eternity in heaven.
The reincarnation in Defending Your Life is in keeping with the Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, by way of the Egyptian “Book of the Dead.” After dieing in a collision with a bus, Brooks’ spirit is taken by tram (as opposed to being carried in the boat of Ra – the Egyptian sun god) to Judgment City, where he is eventually met by Rip Torn in the Anubis role - Anubis being the “dog-headed deity” who escorts the spirit to King Osiris, Judge of the Dead. In the part of Osiris sit three judges. Whereas Osiris asks the spirit for an accounting of his or her life, the judges have the convenience of video playback, able to choose any time in a person’s past for viewing. A “prosecuting attorney” will make the claim that the person is not ready to “move on,” a euphemism for heaven, and must return to earth to overcome their problem – in Brooks’ case, a fear of taking risks, thus wasting his time on earth. The “defendant” can speak for himself and once testimony is finished, the judges make their decree, not unlike Osiris’ weighing “the deceased’s heart against the ‘feather of truth’ to validate the soul’s account.” This same accounting is found in the Jewish legend of Duma, the “angel of silence . . . to whom each departing soul must give an account of his or her life.” Those who pass may go on to heaven and be with God (but, obviously, not God’s son as we understand Jesus the Christ) and with family members who have gone before them. This “Jewish Heaven” – which is not to be confused with Sheol, a Semitic Heaven, which predates the Hebrew religion and is envisioned as “a realm of monotonous quiet where souls will dwell forever - is a renewed Garden of Eden, where they partake in intellectual discussions of sacred teachings and holy texts. Spirits who do not pass Duma’s scrutiny and cannot account for the evil in their life are “cast into hell for everlasting torment.”
“Judgment City” is also what one might call the philosopher, Plato’s, Gorgias, whereby one’s “naked soul” is judged, with a “complex system of rewards and punishments facing the spirit after death. Virtuous souls ascend to higher levels of fulfillment, whereas petty and self-centered spirits are condemned to purge their iniquity through a varying degree of tortures.”
Another opportunity for redemption through reincarnation can be found in What Dreams May Come. At the end of the film, Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra, who were married prior to his death and her suicide, choose to be reincarnated and find each other again, so as to prevent Anabella’s “bad choice” which prevents her from being in heaven for eternity. In this case – and totally contrary to all known theology about reincarnation – the choice to go back is theirs. But since “the kids think it’s a great idea,” why not?
What Dreams May Come does represent, in part, William Blake’s (1757 – 1827) perception of heaven as “the dimension where all souls are creative and industrious, constantly producing great works of fantasy.” In heaven, Robin Williams “wakes up” in a field of flowers, which can be spilled like painting oils, which he realizes is the oil painting his wife created when he was alive. He finds his heavenly escort, who tells him “we all make our own surroundings. You’re the painter now! It’ll do whatever you want!”
Although Biblical “Guardian Angels” – beings sent from heaven to look over and protect earthlings – are limited to Peter and his associates in the Book of Acts, it is one of the most common aspects of Hollywood’s “theology” and goes as far back as the mid-40’s, with A Guy Named Joe. Spencer Tracey is told by an old friend of his, in a reminder of the John 15 passage cited earlier, that “There’s not much time for harp playing up here. There’s plenty of work to do and good men to do it. C’mon, let’s go see the boss.”The “boss” is not who you think it would be, but instead another military man – in uniform, like everyone else – who apparently was once a great flyer, judging from the awestruck attitude of ace pilot Tracey.
This heaven is not one of Elucidation, which “presents a heaven of lush meadows, fragrant flowers, and indescribable beauty,” but is nearly barren, save for the smoke machine-induced clouds found in nearly every Hollywood heavenly hereafter, and supported by a stark office.
As a guardian angel, Tracey is told “We operate on the principal of helping the other fella. If a flyer down below needs a little assistance, we assign a man to ride with him.”
Remade in 1989 as Always, Richard Dreyfus now plays the part of the downed flyer, this time a pilot who loves to fight fires. His vision of heaven is a forest that has very recently suffered a devastating fire, but is now merely smoldering. He meets an angel, Audrey Hepburn, who helps him return to earth. She advises him that “You had inspiration.Now it’s your turn to give it back. They hear you in their own thoughts.” Peter Toon writes that “time and space will not be the same as known here on earth” and we learn in Always that twenty minutes in heaven is equal to six months on earth. On earth, Richard Dreyfuss was “a good man. We don’t send back the other kind” but he is warned the he must go back only so he can help others – “Doing something for yourself is a waste of spirit.”
Cinema’s most well-known guardian angel is probably a fellow by the name of Clarence Oddbody, played by Henry Travers. It seems that the Good Lord is being inundated with prayers of concern over George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) and directs Joseph, foreman of the angels, via the original concept of “speaking stars,” to send somebody to rescue Stewart, with the promise that success will bring Travers the long-awaited wings that come with a promotion to “Angel, First Class.” Anyone who owns a television at Christmas has seen It’s A Wonderful Life and knows how the story ends, gratified to be reminded that “every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”
If Heaven is the realm of God, how is God depicted? The short answer is, usually he isn’t; at least not in God’s heaven. But sometimes, here on earth, she is, such as in the film Dogma, which features Alanis Morisette as the image of the Supreme Being. Otherwise, George Burns to the contrary, the opportunity for a heavenly Visio Dei -seeing God in heaven - is not for the residents of a celluloid afterlife. However, if meeting “the boss” is not possible, there is almost always an intermediary of some sort, who is usually responsible for setting the record straight, especially when something goes awry in God’s perfect plan.
Buck Henry has had the honor of being part of the heavenly team in two films; Heaven Can Wait (1978) and Defending Your Life, both times serving as perfunctory assistants. Claude Reins can be noted for playing both sides of the celestial fence, as Supervising Angel, Mr. Jordan in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, coincidentally remade as the 1978 Heaven Can Wait and as the devil himself in 1946’s Angel On My Shoulder.
If a child asks you “Where do babies come from?’ you can either give the unsupportable notion of a stork dropping a bundle down the chimney or simply say “From Heaven.” And if you offer the latter, Hollywood can help. Made in Heaven has an afterlife and a “before-life” – a waiting room for persons as yet unborn, like Ajyset, the goddess of birth in Siberian mythology who oversees the consecration of new souls. Kelly McGillis is sent to earth as a baby just as her spirit and the spirit of virtuous Tim Hutton are falling in love. Hutton is allowed to go back to earth – as a newborn baby – and has thirty years to win McGillis’ heart.
Chances Are also sends someone back as a baby, in this case, Robert Downey, Jr. Unfortunately, he is not “inoculated” in heaven and, twenty years later, recalls his previous existence.
Hollywood’s depiction of heaven is almost consistently one of white lights and street-level clouds. Unlike the Baha’I faith of nine doors symbolizing the many paths to God, Hollywood seems to offer only one - a bright light in the sky through which the departed spirit must fly, although sometimes special effects allow for a colorful kaleidoscopic to rush by! While theologians may describe heaven as “a place, where Christ, the God-Man is” and “a state, of intimate knowledge of him and of the whole Godhead in him, and of fellowship with him,” Jesus Christ, through whom the Bible teaches us the only path to heaven exists, is completely absent in the Hollywood hereafter, to the point of not even being mentioned in any of the thirty-four films viewed for this paper, save for a less than reverent reference in Dogma. “Doing good” and “Self-sacrifice” are usually all that is required for admission to heaven. It’s “Christ Lite” for non-fat guilt or, as Stanley Jones writes “we inoculate the world with a mild form of Christianity so that it will be immune to the real thing. The aim of such inoculation is security – not security in Christ, but security from Christ and from having to rely on him and the shape of his Kingdom to give meaning and significance to our lives.”
And the devil was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Revelation 20:10 (NIV)
“Gosh, it’s hot here. It gets like this in Florida sometimes.”
- Angel On My Shoulder – 1946
There are few certainties in life…and certainly one in death. If you go to hell, you will fall for a long period of time through a fire-lit rock tunnel until you hit bottom. Literally and figuratively. And the devil, almost always a white male, will be wearing a very nice suit. That is the common link found in the vast majority of the Hollywood films featuring the domain of Satan, aka the devil, tempter, evil one, accuser, enemy, plaintiff, prince of demons, prince of the power of the air, Belial, Beelzebul, Leviathan, and Lucifer. And while neither the Nicene nor the Apostle’s Creeds mention hell or Satan, Tinseltown certainly features both of them prominently, beginning in 1902 with three “flickers” featuring the boss of Hades: The Devil’s Kitchen, The Devil’s Prison and The Devil’s Theater.The apparently less-interesting God doesn’t show up as a title character until ten years later, in D.W. Griffith’s The God Within.
Hollywood’s interpretation of hell is largely a form of Universalism – in that “God condemns in order that he might bring all to salvation. In the end God will gather every person into God’s eternal fellowship; all persons will be restored to God.” Although avoiding hell through the knowledge and acceptance of Christ is not an option in Hollywood, there is the salvation nonetheless - “salvation for all men and women and somehow effectively offer(ing) it to them, even where there is no explicit knowledge of Christ or belief in God.” Occasionally we’ll see the eternal damnation of Adolph Hitler getting a pineapple shoved up his rectum or Patrick Swayze’s murderer getting dragged below the streets by “helltoons” for what we hope is an eternity spent in torment for killing Swayze and threatening sweet, innocent Demi Moore, but mostly, as mentioned above, all it takes is “self sacrifice” to get out of hell and into heaven. The “truth” of this is debated constantly by theologians, some taking the side of the doctrine of apocatastasis, which maintains that “the entire creation, including sinners, the damned, and the devil, would finally be restored to a condition of eternal happiness and salvation.” Others say that the omnipresent Hollywood “happy ending” is not sound theology, as “God never by-passes human freedom in order to release people from the results of their free decision.” Despite God’s infinite love, God will not “‘overlook’ the hateful choice of the sinner.”
Many theologians will tell us that hell is nothing more than being absolutely alone or in utter darkness. Although we are told that “there is a place – a dark place – where ancient evil slumbers and waits for a chance,” it is unlikely that, other than a remake of My Dinner with Andre with the Lights Off, an interesting film could be made using these parameters of aloneness and the dark. So instead, hell is filled with half-naked men and women, lounging lasciviously or chained to rocks or being escorted by demons; trustees who have been serving for “300 odd years,” demons, bats, dragons, “Unwed Mothers, Aggressive Pan Handlers, Book Critics, Right-Wing Extremist, Serial Killers, The Media (“Sorry – that floor is all full”) Escaped War Criminals, TV Evangelists and the NRA” and Juno, the much beleaguered, chain-smoking administrator in charge of who comes and goes.
Some films view hell more as a state of mind than a physical place. Annabella Sciorra in What Dreams May Come is in hell because she won’t face the fact that, by committing suicide, she violated the natural order of her journey. Her hell “is for those who don’t know they’re dead. They can’t realize what they’ve done – what’s happened to them. Too self absorbed in life that they built this world around them…” She is in a “the self-chosen state of alienation from God.”Grenz’ “stubborn human hostility” keeps her in hell until Robin Williams can save her.
Though harps may be the musical choice of cultural heaven, the music in hell is Benny Goodman’s “Swing Swing Swing.” If you want to hear “Beethoven, Bach, Mozart - (they) are only heard…up there.”
The burning (pun intended) question of Conditionalism/Annihilationismvs. Traditional Hell is never answered, but the implication is one of Traditionalism - that once you are in hell, unless you’re the hero of the picture, you stay in hell. When Christ again returns to earth, we’ll see if Paul Muni, Jon Lovitz, Jacob Marley, Michael Keaton, Elizabeth Hurley, and the other denizens of hellfire are redeemed and brought together with Christ.
Barr, William R., ed. Constructive Christian Theology in the Worldwide Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans’s Publishing Company. 1997
Grenz, Stanley J.. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1994.
Hauerwas, Stanley and William H. Willimon. Resident Aliens. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1989.
Stack, Peggy Fletcher. A World of Faith. City not provided: Signature Books. 2002.
Toon, Peter. Heaven and Hell – A Biblical and TheologicalOverview. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 1996
Van Scott, Miriam. Encyclopedia of Heaven. New York: Thomas Divine Books, St Martin’s Press. 1999.
WWW.IMDB.COM – Internet Movie Data Base, an online resource for films.
All film summaries cited are edited from entries in the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) unless noted.
A Guy Named Joe – 1943. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer A sentimental, patriotic (if not propagandistic) Hollywood fantasy about a dead World War II bomber pilot, Maj. Pete Sandidge (Spencer Tracy) who becomes guardian angel to another pilot, Capt. Ted Randall (Van Johnson), guiding Randall through battle and helping him to romance his old girlfriend (Irene Dunne), despite her excessive devotion to Sandidge's memory.
All Dogs Go to Heaven – 1989. Sullivan Bluth Studios Ireland When a casino owning dog named Charlie is murdered by his rival Carface, he finds himself in Heaven basically by default since all dogs to heaven. However, since he wants to get back at his killer, he cons his way back to the living with the warning that doing that damns him to Hell. Once back, he teams with his old partner, Itchy, to prepare his retaliation. He also stumbles on to an orphan girl who can talk to the animals, thus allowing him to get the inside info on the races to ensure his wins to finance his plans. However, all the while, he is still haunted by nightmares on what's waiting for him on the other side unless he can prove that he is worthy of Heaven again.
Always – 1989. Amblin Entertainment Pete is a pilot who drops water on forest fires at very low heights. His intended Dorinda is also a pilot who doubles as a radio controller for the pilots who do this work. Pete always takes chances, confident that his skill will bring him through. One day it doesn't and he is killed. He finds himself returning as an invisible ghost whose presence is barely felt giving advice to his successor. Pete then finds that his successor is also falling in love with Dorinda.
Angel On My Shoulder – 1946. Charles R. Rodgers Productions Gangster Eddie Lee (Paul Muni) is killed by a trusted lieutenant and finds himself in Hell, where Nick/The Devil (Claude Rains) sees that he is an exact double for a judge, of whom Nick doesn't approve. Eddie is agreeable to having his soul transferred to the judge's body, as it will give him a chance to avenge himself on his killer. But every action taken by Eddie (as the judge) results in good rather than evil and, to Nick's dismay, the reputation and influence of the judge is enhanced, rather than impaired by Eddie. Eddie also falls in love with the judge's fiancée, Barbara (Anne Baxter.) Even Eddie's planned revenge fails and Nick is forced to concede defeat. He returns to Hell, taking Eddie with him, after Eddie has extracted his promise that Nick will not molest the judge or Barbara in the future.
Bedazzled – 2000. 20th Century Fox
Elliot Richardson (Brendan Fraser), is a socially inept nerd who is given seven wishes to turn his life around by a very seductive Satan (Elizabeth Hurley). All she wants in return is his soul. Elliot’s wishes center on his desire for beautiful Alison Gardner, but, as could be expected, the Devil puts her own little twist on each his wishes.
Beetlejuice – 1988. Warner Bros. Studios The Maitlands die in a car accident but learn that they are unable to leave their house. The new owners of the house’s gothic daughter discovers the Maitlands in the attic and befriends them. She finds their after life handbook which is eventually confiscated by the family's interior decorator who is fascinated by the paranormal, and during a séance, conjures up the Maitlands. Most of the trouble starts as the free lance bio-exorcist, Beetlejuice gets involved.
Constantine - 2005. Warner Bros. Based on the DC/Vertigo comic book Hellblazer and written by Kevin Brodbin, Mark Bomback and Frank Capello, Constantine tells the story of irreverent supernatural detective John Constantine (Keanu Reeves), who has literally been to hell and back. When Constantine teams up with skeptical policewoman Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) to solve the mysterious suicide of her twin sister (also played by Weisz), their investigation takes them through the world of demons and angels that exists just beneath the landscape of contemporary Los Angeles. Caught in a catastrophic series of otherworldly events, the two become inextricably involved and seek to find their own peace at whatever cost.
Carousel – 1956. 20th Century Fox Billy is sent down "from above" for one day to try and make amends for mistakes he made in life. Billy worked at the carnival running the carousel, which is where he met Julie. The carny owner, Mrs. Mullen, fires him because of jealousy, and he and Julie get married. Billy gets into bad habits when he can't find a job and they are forced to live with Julie's cousin, Nettie, after Julie is fired from her factory job for staying out late with Billy. When Julie tells him she's pregnant, he feels compelled to somehow find a way to support his family, but the only option seems to be falling back into crime with his old pal Jigger.
Chances Are - 1989. TriStar Pictures Louie Jeffries is happily married to Corinne. On their first anniversary, Louie is killed crossing the road. Louie is reincarnated as Alex Finch, and twenty years later, fate brings Alex and Louie's daughter, Miranda, together. It's not until Alex is invited to Louie's home that he begins to remember his former life, wife and best friend. Of course, there's also the problem that he's attracted to Louie's/his own daughter.
Deconstructing Harry – 1997. Sweetland Films Harry Block is a well-regarded novelist whose tendency to thinly-veil his own experiences in his work, as well as his un-apologetic attitude and his proclivity for pills and whores, has left him with three ex-wives that hate him. As he is about to be honored for his writing by the college that expelled him, he faces writer's block and the impending marriage of his latest flame to a writer friend. As scenes from his stories and novels pass and interact with him, Harry faces the people whose lives he has affected - wives, lovers, his son, his sister.
Defending Your Life – 1991. Geffen Company. Yuppie Daniel Miller is killed in a car accident and goes to Judgment City, a waiting room for the afterlife. During the day, he must prove in a courtroom-style process that he successfully overcame his fears (a hard task, given the pitiful life we are shown); at night, he falls in love with Julia, the only other young person in town. Nights are a time of hedonistic pleasure, since you can (for instance) eat all you want without getting fat.
All of your life is on videotape -- or perhaps laser disk -- to make it easier on your prosecutor and defense attorney at Judgment City to randomly access a few episodes to show whether you made the most of the life you just completed. If you didn't make the most of that life, you will be sent back to try again and again until you do get it right. And the court must be taking an advance peek at that life tape. Posh accommodations go to those who look like they will merit moving up to citizen of the universe -- like Julia who falls for Daniel, whose quarters have no ambiance at all.
The Devil’s Kitchen – 1902. Edison Company This is one of the very first mystical pictures. The scene represents the Devil's Kitchen with the Devil's cook at work. As the different kettles are placed upon the fire, various hobgoblins of every description jump out in front of the cook. A little hunchback bobs out of the kettle of potatoes, and fires at the cook point blank with a miniature gun which emits an immense cloud of smoke. Pandemonium reigns in the kitchen from the start to the finish of the film.
Dogma – 1999. View Askew Productions A female descendant of Christ and two unlikely prophets are called upon by Rufus, an unknown 13th apostle, to stop two angels that were cast out of heaven, from restoring their souls by entering a new church. What they don’t know is that, by doing so, they would erase all of God's work. Restoring ones soul by entering a new church is a part of the Catholic Dogma. By restoring their souls, the angels could reenter heaven, thus revealing there is a loophole to return to heaven. This would prove God was not perfect and upon proving this, all of God's work would immediately be erased.
Ghost – 1990. Paramount Pictures Sam and Molly are a very happy couple and deeply in love. Walking back to their new apartment after a night out at the theatre, they encounter a thief in a dark alley, and Sam is murdered. He finds himself trapped as a ghost and realizes that his death was no accident. He must warn Molly about the danger that she is in. But as a ghost he can not be seen or heard by the living, and so he tries to communicate with Molly through Oda Mae Brown, a psychic who didn't even realize that her powers were real. Together, Sam and Oda Mae try to save Molly – but will they be in time?
Heaven Can Wait – 1943. 20th Century Fox. Henry Van Cleve presents himself at the gates of Hell only to find he is closely vetted on his qualifications for entry. Surprised there is any question on his suitability, he recounts his lively life and the women he has known from his mother onwards, but mainly concentrating on his happy but sometimes difficult twenty-five years of marriage to Martha. At the end of his story, the devil tells him “”I’m sorry, we don’t cater to your class of people here” and sends him on the elevator. “Down?” asks the operator. “No,” replies the devil. “Up!”
Heaven Can Wait – 1978. Paramount Pictures Joe Pendleton is a quarterback preparing to lead his team to the Superbowl when he is almost killed in an accident. An overanxious angel plucks him to heaven only to discover that he wasn't ready to die, and that his body has been cremated. A new body must be found, and that of a recently murdered millionaire is chosen. His wife and accountant, the murderers, are confused by this development, as he buys the L.A. Rams in order to once again quarterback them into the Superbowl.
Hellboy – 2004. Dark Horse Entertainment Hellboy (Ron Perlman) was summoned by accident at the end of WWII when Rasputin was meddling with forces that lead to his undoing. Rescued by US soldiers, Hellboy is raised by Prof. Bruttenholm, an expert in the occult. Joining the Bureau of Paranormal, our hero fights for the side of good.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan – 1941. Columbia Pictures Boxer Joe Pendleton, flying to his next fight, crashes because a Heavenly Messenger, new on the job, snatched Joe's spirit prematurely from his body. Before the matter can be rectified, Joe's body is cremated; so the celestial Mr. Jordan grants him the use of the body of wealthy Bruce Farnsworth, who's just been murdered by his wife. Joe tries to remake Farnsworth's unworthy life in his own clean-cut image, but then falls in love; and what about that murderous wife? (Remade in 1978 as Heaven Can Wait).
It’s A Wonderful Life – 1946. Liberty Films Inc.
George Bailey spends his entire life giving up his big dreams for the good of his town, Bedford Falls, as we see in flashback. But in the present, on Christmas Eve, he is broken and suicidal over the misplacing of an $8000 loan and the machinations of the evil millionaire, Mr. Potter. His guardian angel, Clarence, falls to Earth, literally, and shows him how his town, family, and friends would turn out if he had never been born. George meant so much to so many people; should he really throw it all away?
Little Nicky – 2000. Happy Madison Production Co. Little Nicky is the son of Satan, who got the job from HIS father, Lucifer. Satan wants to retire, but none of his sons are good enough for the job. There's Cassius and Adrian, who lack the goodness needed for the job, and Nicky [Adam Sandler] who, while having goodness, lacks any evil whatsoever. Cassius and Adrian leave Hell, thereby freezing the wall of fire that lets the damned souls into Hell, beginning the destruction of the place and their father. Little Nicky has to save the day.
Made in Heaven – 1987. Lorimar Film Entertainment Romantic, occasionally funny, drama about two souls who consummate their marriage literally in "Heaven". Mike Shea, in his first life dies as a young man performing a heroic rescue. Shortly after arriving in "Heaven" he meets a new soul, Annie Packert, who has never lived on Earth before. The drama centers around their separation soon after being wedded and the burning question as to whether or not they will reunite on Earth before time runs out.
Oh, God! – 1977. Warner Bros. Studios Jerry Landers, (John Denver) a supermarket assistant manager and a good yet non-religious person, suddenly finds a note in the mail one day that grants him an "interview" with God, portrayed by George Burns. Thinking it to be a hoax he tosses it away, but when it keeps reappearing he finally gives in. Skeptical at first, he ends up carrying God’s personal message - that the world can work with what God has given us.
Oh, Heavenly Dog - 1980. 20th Century Fox. Browning is a PI with a bad cold, who's sent to investigate a case by a mysterious client. He stumbles across the body of a young woman and is stabbed to death, and when he wakes up in heaven, they tell him he's "marginal material," and they can only decide on his final destination through one last assignment: to go back and solve his own murder. As a dog - a cute fluffy little dog (Benji). Undaunted, Browning begins to investigate the case as best he can around his canine disabilities (dialing the phone presents a special challenge) to solve the murders, save the girl, and see justice done.
Scrooge – 1970. Cinema Center Films
In this retelling of the classic Charles Dickens story, Ebenezer Scrooge falls into his future grave. He is greeted by Marley, who offers to “show (him) to his quarters.” Scrooge’s “activities in life (were) so pleasing to Lucifer, that he has appointed (Scrooge) to be his personal Clerk! In other words, Scrooge is to be to Satan what Bob Cratchitt is to Scrooge.His office is “freezing cold” and inhabited by rats and, in this dream (?) the onerous chains Scrooge forged in life were placed upon him, overwhelming the man and leaving him unable to move and begging for help. (Synopsis by author)
What Dreams May Come – 1998. PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. Doctor Chris Nielson (Robin Williams) meets his true soul mate Annie (Annabella Sciorra), marries her and has two children. The children die in a car accident, and Chris dies four years after that. Ending up in heaven, he is guided by friendly guardian angel Albert (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) through the afterlife, and he is reunited with his dog and children. After he dies, his wife, Annie killed herself and went to hell. Chris decides to risk eternity in Hades for the small chance that he will be able to bring her back to heaven.
OTHER FILMS VIEWED FOR THIS PAPER
Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey – Interscope Communications. 1991 The boys visit both heaven and hell to get back to the living to “save our girlfriends.”
The Black Hole – Walt Disney Pictures. 1979 One of the most interesting depictions of heaven on film. Except that the special effects editor, in a separate documentary comment, says that wasn’t his intention.
Devil and Daniel Webster – William Dieterle Productions. 1941 “It’s Hessian Gold!”
Freddy vs. Jason – New Line Cinema. 2003 “I can’t come back (from Hell) if nobody remembers me!”
G-Men From Hell – Sawmill Entertainment Corporation. 2000. After being sent to hell: “All we gotta do is get back on earth, do a couple of good deeds and everything will be all right!”
Heaven – RCA Video Productions. 1987 An odd film, most notable for being directed by Diane Keaton, it is an interview of people about the hereafter. The use of movie clips is disappointing.
Hellbound – Book of the Dead – B-HORROR.COM. 2003 Thank God for the fast forward button!
Hellraiser – Cinemarque Entertainment BV. 1987 An acupuncturist’s dream!
One Hell of a Guy – 7.23 Productions. 1998 Hell includes “The Seven Rings of Kathy Lee, the chamber of ceaseless waiting, (and) the feces pool.”
The Prophecy – First Look Pictures Releasing. 1995 “Do you know what hell really is, Thomas? It’s not lakes of burning oil or chains of knives. It’s being removed from God’s sight; having his word taken from you.”
Southpark: Bigger, Longer & Uncut – Warner Bros. Studios. 1999 Like the television show without the good taste.
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