What happens after you die? No one, including Flatliners director Niels Arden Oplev, can honestly claim to be able to answer that question. It was a fun challenge to tackle nevertheless, the director told GameSpot.
"Designing or conceptualizing the afterlife--the flatlines--was challenging, because it's something that nobody knows," Oplev, who also directed the Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and the pilot for USA's Mr. Robot, said.
Like the 1990 original, the new Flatliners follows a group of medical students--in this iteration played by Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, and Kiersey Clemons--who take turns killing themselves then medically resuscitating one another. While "flatlining," they experience vivid visions or hallucinations that eventually begin to manifest in the real, physical world. Like the original, the new movie veers into campy thriller territory, but it's the flatlines themselves that are most interesting on a conceptual level.
Each flatline is individual to the character experiencing it, like a motorcycle ride through your old neighborhood at night. And each one eventually turns into something darker.
"[The flatlines] had to be fun, in a way that they would make the other characters want to flatline also, and also they would have to be individual for each person, since no two humans are the same," Oplev said. "And certainly they would have to be based in that the flatline was trying to bring them to something in their past that they would have to confront or face."
These trips aren't only based in fantasy, though. Oplev and the movie's writers, Peter Filardi and Ben Ripley, did research into what people have reported experiencing after dying and being resuscitated, and Oplev even spoke to some real life "flatliners" himself.
"Everything I read about the afterlife, mysticism, out-of-body experiences, spiritiualism, and all of that, in the last 40 or 45 years, reflected in how these flatlines ended up looking in the finished film," he said.
"There's really not much exact science, in the way that most scientists would call stories from the afterlife pseudo-science," he continued. "It's impossible ever, in a scientific world, to check whether that is actually true or not, whether it's something they imagined or dreamed. We read a lot of that. I talked to people who had flatlined and they felt they could remember something. I talked to some people who said there was absolutely nothing--it was just like the power was shut off until somebody brought them back to life."
Like the original, the new Flatliners never explicitly explains exactly what's going on--how or why the characters' new hobby is causing the terror going on in their real lives. Oplev wouldn't have it a different way.
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"Flatliners is a supernaturall psychological thriller. It's not a horror film. And I think that turning things into a more physical demon or something like that, I think that would be ridiculous," he said. "It would take the psychological thriller element out of the film. It has to be ambiguous, in the sense that they don't know if this is going on inside their own heads...I think that the audience has to make up their own mind about it."
What about the director's personal beliefs? Does he trust in the experiences of people who've died and been brought back or had near-death experiences--or does he think it's all bologna?"
"My opinion would be that you can be an atheist in your brain, but you can be spiritual with your heart," he said. "I will say I've had some experiences in my own life that could be some sort of communication with people who are no longer living on this planet. But for me that doesn't mean that it's supernatural. That might mean that there are parts of physical science, of other dimensions and parallel universes, that we just simply don't understand yet.
"We don't have a full conception of the universe that we live in," he concluded. "We have not gained the level of intelligence--and we have also lost some senses in surrounding ourselves with comfortable technology."
Flatliners is out in theaters today, Sept. 29.
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