After Life


Every once in a while, a film comes along with such an intriguing premise that
we bolt upright in our chairs when we first see a preview for it or read about
it. In Hollywood parlance, a "home-run" premise is worth its weight in celluloid. Of course, we are sometimes elated and sometimes disappointed when we see the actual film. As Forrest Gump so eloquently said, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get."

Opening this coming December, a film called The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is about a man who is born old and then gets younger and younger as time goes by, thereby reversing the entire "aging" process. I have no idea about the quality of the film itself, but I sure am hooked on the premise and can’t wait to see it.

I also remember having that feeling when I first heard about Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (one of my favorite films of the last decade) and its question of "what would it be like if we could erase a painful memory?"

After Life, the film I am recommending this month, takes the Sunshine premise and ups the ante: When we die, we go to a way station where we choose one memory in which we will spend eternity. One memory and only one.

After Life is a Japanese film that was shot about 10 years ago. The film made a quick appearance (with very little publicity) on the U.S. art house circuit and then quickly disappeared. To reveal too much about the plot and the various choices that people make about their one special memory would ruin the surprises of the film; moreover, it’s the premise itself that begs further discussion.

Unlike Bill Murray’s plight in Groundhog Day where he remembered what each previous day had been like, the memory in After Life would be a new experience every time. The elation, love, joy or whatever the emotions might be would be as though we had never encountered them before. A peak moment in our life relived throughout eternity.

A memory involves a certain group of people (or maybe just one person or a favorite pet or a favorite nature encounter) at a particular time and place. Choosing one memory might, and almost certainly probably would, exclude some other cherished loved ones. For many, there would be great excitement and comfort in picking that one moment, while for others it could be an excruciatingly difficult decision. (Both experiences are reflected in the film itself.)

For example, I know that my one memory would be the New Year’s Eve on which I married my wife Lauren. We got married in our home and the whole day was utterly magical and perfect. Our six children (from previous marriages) were all present and they were all ecstatically happy. My kids were thrilled that I was marrying Lauren, her kids felt the same about me, and all six of them loved each completely. Our one granddaughter was there at her adorable best. The ceremony was exactly as we hoped it would be, the food was wonderful, we all danced and sang and cried and ate, and the world was a magical place. That would absolutely be the memory I would choose.

It was, however, a very small wedding. Just our immediate families. The eternal experience of it would then not include any of our close friends or other family members who couldn’t make it. My sister, whom I adore, couldn’t be in Oregon that night so my eternal memory would not include her, though I really love her.

That’s what makes the film so fascinating. We sit there and watch the choices that people make on screen and, all the while, we’re processing our own decision. Do I believe that such a choice awaits us after life? No, I don’t, but the film led to amazing reflections and discussions for many, many weeks after I saw it. That is, to me, one the hallmarks of a very special and deeply spiritual film experience.

So…which memory would you choose?

After Life is the feature film in the Vol. 11 collection of films from Spiritual Cinema Circle []. New subscribers to the Spiritual Cinema Circle can receive a free trial membership (for a nominal shipping fee) by visiting: or by calling toll-free 1.800.556/0129.

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