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Watch: A Video Essay on the Afterlife, from Albert Brooks to Woody Allen

Watch: A Video Essay on the Afterlife, from Albert Brooks to Woody Allen

This remarkable piece, which takes us through visions of the afterlife ranging from Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life to Woody Allen’s vision of Hell in Deconstructing Harry, threaded along with clever music (Jessica Lurie’s cover of David Byrne’s “Heaven” for the former half, “Disco Inferno” for the latter half), managing to instersperse cameos from South Park‘s version of the Devil, Seth Rogen, and Harry Potter along the way, raises a question: how do we arrive at these visions? Heaven, in the Christian sense, is thought of as a reward for good behavior–and in many of the scenes “brutzelpretzel” has arranged here, it’s a tranquil place, even beautiful (as in What Dreams May Come, with its poignant Robin Williams performance). But what about the person sent there? What if tranquility isn’t their idea of a reward, nor physical beauty? For a person who had been active all his or her life, would an eternity of inactivity and comfort be a reward? Similarly, is a burning, chaotic pit necessarily the best punishment for a person who has done evil deeds for a lifetime? In both extremes, many of the characters seem baffled; the most apparent emotion on the face of Woody Allen’s Harry as he descends into the inferno (“Floor 7: The Media”) is disgruntlement–and on that of Richard Dreyfuss’s pilot in Always, confusion. Watching these afterlife sequences makes one think, mainly, that our cinematic visions of Heaven and Hell tell more a story of displacement than of right and wrong–and that when Keanu Reeve’s Ted says “No way” upon learning he is dead, and Alex Winter’s Bill replies, “Yes way,” this is perhaps as profound a statement as a character might realistically make on the experience: that of stunned acceptance.  

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