Is there some unwritten law that prohibits characters in woo-woo movies and novels from being inquisitive about their paranormal encounters? Do they always have to be so thick-headed in the face of revolutionary changes to their reality?
If I saw Shoeless Joe Jackson standing on a baseball field that I made out of a cornfield after a voice told me if I build it he will come, I’d have a few questions. I’d show a little spunk. I wouldn’t just leave it at, “Oh, Shoeless Joe Jackson is hanging out in my field. Hi Shoeless.”
Don’t get me wrong. Field of Dreams remains one of my favorite movies. That’s largely because it whets my appetite for more answers about why we’re here on this planet.
Yet I’ve always wondered why authors and screenwriters are so reluctant to mix it up with the good stuff. Even the late Roger Ebert wrote in his 1989 review of the Field of Dreams, “The movie sensibly never tries to make the slightest explanation for the strange events that happen after the diamond is constructed.”
SPLAIN YOURSELF, LUCY
Personally, I want explanations. I want to be challenged by an artist’s vision of wha’ happened. I would have loved a sequel where we follow Terence Mann as he enters the mysterious clubhouse deep in the cornfield, presumably to discover all those juicy secrets hidden from those of us stuck in the flesh?
Why are we so reluctant in our mainstream media to wonder aloud about our cosmic nature? Is it all marketing, marketing, marketing — don’t want to offend anyone by creating a vision that contradicts someone’s dogmatic religion? Is it a case of separation of church and entertainment?
Personally, if I were Ray Kinsella and met my deceased father on a ball field at twilight, I’d have a few questions. For starters, “Uh, Dad, has it occurred to you that you’re dead?”
Or is that not appropriate guy talk? Don’t wanna get too much into feelings! Gasp!
“Ray, Son, you live on an spiritually challenged planet. You want simple, pat answers and tie-it-nicely-together happy endings. So let’s just cut the curiosity crap and have us a catch.”
“Dad, how can a dead father materialize in Iowa, regress thirty years in age, and have nothing to say about cosmic human destiny?”
“Sh-sh-sh. Now, now. See if you can catch my curve?”
A somewhat daring film in the spiritual cinema genre was What Dreams May Come (1998) based on the novel by Richard Matheson. It at least dared to toy with some metaphysical concepts like creating your own reality with your consciousness. The film showed how Dr. Chris Nielsen’s external world in heaven changed as his inner world changed.
Even so, the heroic doctor and family man (played by Robin Williams) who’d lost two children in an earier fatal car wreck seemed peculiarly lacking in spiritual curiosity once he figured out he was dead. It takes him forever to ask, “Where’s God in all this?”
His guide Albert (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) replies while gazing skyward, “Oh, he’s up there … somewhere … shouting down that he loves us, wondering why we can’t hear him.”
Is it just me? Isn’t that the most banal reply from a spirit guide who just may (just should) have more insight into the workings of the Universe? You can just read into the script the discussion at the studio about not jeopardizing market share among the religious audiences by laying out a bold vision of the afterlife.
Don’t get me wrong. That movie thrilled me, too. It was a giant leap ahead of the pack in spiritual cinema. Siskel and Ebert gave the film “two enthusiastic thumbs up!” Still I wondered why it was so timid. Or as Roger Ebert would have said, “So sensible.”
On the rare occasions when movies follow someone who’s died, they seem to have swallowed dumb and dumber pills.
I’m especially amused (as in wanna throw a book at the TV) when the freshly crossed ask, “Am I dead?” And some get all upset that the answer is yes. Dead? Dead? I’m dead?
It’s amusing because they generate brand new thoughts. They still think therefore they still are. But it does not occur to them that they have entered a new environment, are still conscious, and that all the crap they learned about dying was uber misleading.
So I was wondering — is it ultimately all about money and market share? Is there any unwritten rule in the literary and movie-making empires about characters openly asking poignant questions about their new living situation — or is it a matter of too much information?
I do find this strange because the movies are none too shy about killing people. The industry kills people right and left in plenty of creative and visually exciting ways. It milks death scenes for every last teardrop. Yet for all the carnage and farewells shown on the big screen (with DVD and streaming video beyond that), the industry doesn’t seem to want to invest much talent in exploring what happens beyond the red line of death.
Behind every tombstone in every cemetery in the world dwells a huge question mark — where did I go after I went to the morgue?
LET OUR ARTISTS GO
I support our mainstream art in panning the goldfields of speculation for sparkling nuggets of cosmic wonderment. Science has seemed to be dragging its collective ass on investigating what happens to dead people, so perhaps it’s up to the arts community to throttle up the exploration.
Places all over the Internet house virtual museums of anecdotal evidence of soul survival including near-death experiences, after-death communication, out-of-body experiences, mediumship, and so on. Even my casual perusal of Facebook groups yields stuff that would make intriguing movie magic.
Art is art. It is often fiction. It speculates. But because it is free from having to be scientific, it lets us explore “what if” possibilities with more gusto.
In one of my current projects, I follow a successful advertising copywriter through his fatal car crash into spirit. I have been inventing a heaven for him to dwell in. So far that sounds like Defending Your Life, Albert Brooks’ inventive romantic comedy about an ad exec who winds up in judgment City for his afterlife review trial.
Some friends thought the 1991 film wimped out by going for too many laughs instead of exploring what heaven was. Yet I found the whole afterlife trial so compelling that I used it as a spiritual anchor. I often found myself wondering how my actions would play out if there was such a life review. Later as I studied more about near-death experiences and the life reviews many of these people faced, Defending Your Life seemed headier than ever.
But it also just whet my appetite for more. I keep thinking that if 10% of the movies we devote to crime and war and other forms of killing were devoted instead to exploring spiritual possibilities, our cosmic purpose for being on earth, positive solutions to our planetary woes, and what happens after death, we would be a much different society.
What do you think?