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Perspective: A little splice of heaven

When filmmakers through the years have conjured up images of the hereafter, the results have all too often been hellishly clichéd, and 'The Tree of Life' is only the latest example.

June 12, 2011|By Leah Rozen, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Then there are those filmmakers who envision a more prosaic, minimalist heaven, and are often all the more effective for their restraint. Two of the best: The sublime final scene in director-writer Robert Benton's "Places in the Heart" (1984) shows the living and the dead, the good and the bad, all taking communion together in the dusty haze of a Great Depression-wracked Texas in the 1930s.

More recently, in 1998's "After Life," a wonderfully spare and yet moving Japanese film by director-writer Hirokazu Koreeda, the newly departed find themselves in an ordinary bureaucratic office. They are asked by kindly attendants to recall a single moment from their life when they were happiest. That moment is then re-created by a film crew and is the only memory the person will take with them to eternity.

When it comes to showing heaven in movies, less is more. Concentrating on emotions and memories rather than clouds and clichés is always a better way to go.

And what of hell? Lots of movies have gone there too, but again "Defending Your Life" nails it. When Brooks' newly dead character nervously asks whether there's a hell, one of eternity's gatekeepers reassures him, "Actually, there's no hell, though I hear that Los Angeles is getting pretty close."

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