…and the quest to see everything

Bad-ish Movie: Schumacher’s Flatliners

I remember my aunt talking about Joel Schumacher‘s Flatliners, its characters facing the consequences of questioning God, as if the latter is the worst and most grave thing anyone can ever do.

Let me introduce you to the characters.

Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland) is the ringleader and mad scientist, having a Satanic flair in convincing some of his fellow students into his racket or trying to find out what’s after death, arguing not for a religious but a scientific approach to truth and knowledge even though he’s equally about fame. Dave, (Kevin Bacon) reckless yet brilliant, reluctantly joins Nelson’s experiments only because he’s good at saving other people’s lives. Hurley (William Baldwin), despite his fiancee (Hope Davis), is the token lothario, has an effortless grasp on the human anatomy and is assigned to document the proceedings. Rachel (Julia Roberts), curious about her patients’ brushes with the afterlife and seen by the other characters as frigid because that’s what everyone thinks of driven female characters. Her femininity also makes the other students protect her from the experiment. And Oliver Platt, snarky yet poetic, exists here so that the audience already believes that most medical students aren’t hot youngsters with head shots.

I can still hear the Atlanta in Roberts’ speech. Bacon has been luckier, while Platt and Sutherland will eventually get roles that sort of echo the ones that they play here. Say what you will about Schumacher but the guy knows how to cast the movie.

Leave it up to Schumacher to create some garish images. Aided by his director of photography Jan de Bont, this movie is in the middle ground of ugly between his Batmans and his later work with Colin Farrell that I have yet to see, with his obsession with altitude as well as depicting some jumbled urban landscape. Hospital wings appropriately enough are littered with dead bodies for medical students to study but what are the red neon bars doing there? The exterior, however, is decorated with friezes depicting Medieval images of life and death flanking different sides of Hippocrates’ symbol.

Every structure is crumbling. Student housing where young kids play or abandoned buildings downtown. Nelson and Hurley’s lofts are minimally furnished where the latter videotapes his sexual experiences. There’s a church with a high ceiling surrounded by yellow tape and under renovation where the students irreverently do their experiments. And every time they enter a space or a scene begins we hear the jangle of an electric guitar or a synthesizer, making the movie’s aesthetics look way more dated than it already is.

Let’s talk about the afterlife sequences. Nelson’s seamless changes from a bucolic, all-American grassland to a forest with twined trees and other Gothic imagery like a paralyzed dog. Hurley’s is what would happen in Fritz Lang directed a Calvin Klein underwear commercial. Nelson’s afterlife blends into his real one is when Schumacher’s signature of neon pastel graffiti lights up and spooks his audience. Too bad that this kind of flashiness distracts from a truly compelling stories and set of characters, eventually loses my interest.

2 responses

  1. ANother film that I seem to remember liking. Maybe it is just the nostalgia talkin?


    December 2, 2011 at 8:02 am

    • It’s on the upper half of Schumacher but it’s still Schumacher.

      Also I have a ton of reviews of old and new stuff to do and I promise that half of them won’t be as bitchy.

      December 3, 2011 at 1:19 am

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