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Flatliners (1990, Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland)

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Led by fame-hungry Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland), a group of medical students embark on a daring experiment: to take a peek into the afterlife. But the experiment goes horribly wrong. The team consists of insular Rachel (Julia Roberts), sceptic David (Kevin Bacon), lady-killer Joe (William Baldwin) and jester/ genius Randy (Oliver Platt).

Their arrogant plan involves taking turns to be clinically ‘killed’ (indicated by the flat lines on the ECG machines monitoring their heart and brain activity) before being resuscitated by the others. But the group’s competitive streak takes its toll as each member attempts to stay dead for longer and longer, and resuscitation proves increasingly difficult.

There’s also a side effect to the experiment that none of them foresaw. Instead of the calm tunnels of light, commonly described by near-death experience sufferers, each practitioner is transported to the darkest recess of his/ her guilty conscience and, on returning to life, is haunted by the physical manifestation of past wrong-doing. Nelson, for example, finds himself hounded by a boy he bullied and accidentally murdered in childhood, while Rachel is tormented by visions of her father’s suicide, a tragedy for which she has always (wrongly) felt responsible. It is only by confronting their guilt through atonement or self-forgiveness that they rid themselves of the disturbing demons.

As he had done in archetypal brat-pack movie St Elmo’s Fire, director Joel Schumacher brought together a new generation of promising young actors for Flatliners . Sutherland had starred in the director’s previous film, The Lost Boys , while Roberts, red hot after Pretty Woman , joined Schumacher in the following year’s Dying Young.

Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Peter Filardi

USA | 115 minutes | 1990

cast
Oliver Platt as Randy Steckle
Julia Roberts as Rachel Mannus
Aeryk Egan as Young Nelson
Kevin Bacon as David Labraccio
Kiefer Sutherland as Nelson
William Baldwin as Joe Hurley
Kimberly Scott as Winnie Hicks
Joshua Rudoy as Billy Mahoney
Benjamin Mouton as Rachel’s Father
Kesha Reed as Young Winnie
Hope Davis as Anne Coldren
Jim Ortlieb as Uncle Dave
John Duda as Young David
Megan Stewart as Playground Kid
Tressa Thomas as Playground Kid
Sanna Vraa as Bridget
Beth Grant as Housewife
Marilyn Dodds Frank as Bag Lady
Patricia Belcher as Edna