‘After Death’: What’s on the Other Side?

This provocative film takes a scientific look at what happens when the lights go out.
‘After Death’: What’s on the Other Side?
CGI image of what happens after death, in "After Death." (Angel Studios)
Michael Clark

Striking while the iron is still relatively hot, the company (Angel Studios) that produced the out-of-left-field summer hit “Sound of Freedom” has followed it with “After Death,” a sprawling and intriguing documentary centering on the Near Death Experience (NDE) phenomenon.

There was a time when people claiming to have NDEs were written off by the scientific community as mentally unbalanced or religious zealots, but times have certainly changed. Founded in 1978 by four independent researchers, the International Association for Near-Death Studies began approaching the concept of the NDE from scientific and medical perspectives.

First-time directors Stephen Gray and Chris Radtke follow the blueprint of “Sound of Freedom” by somewhat bucking the trend of other long-established faith-based productions. Instead of putting the emphasis on Christianity, the filmmakers employ it as a connective narrative tissue.

Biblical Scripture

This is not to say that religion is relegated to the back burner. The filmmakers present passages from biblical Scripture indicating that the NDE has a long and ancient history. Texts from Paul in Acts 14:19–20 and Corinthians 12:2–4 offer examples of long-deceased people returning to life for reasons unexplained. Also quoted is Book 10, Section 614 from Plato’s “Republic,” with similar claims.
Re-creation of a near-death experience, in "After Death." (Angel Studios)
Re-creation of a near-death experience, in "After Death." (Angel Studios)

In the interest of “full disclosure” storytelling, the filmmakers take what some might feel to be a dicey move by including decidedly dark passages. According to the data presented, of those who have had an NDE, a full 23 percent of them described themselves as “visiting Hell.”

During several well-conceived and well-executed dramatic (yet restrained) re-creations based on testimony provided by the participants, these experiences were as harrowing as one could possibly imagine.

On the flipside, the handful of other interviewees describe their experiences as transcendental and cleansing. They all claim to have seen their deceased bodies from above before departing for high skies, and looking down at stunning and expansive celestial landscapes while being completely devoid of fear, doubt, pain, or apprehension.

You Have to Go Back

All were told that their time on earth was not done and that they would have to return. So pleasant and awakening was his journey that car crash victim Don Piper exhibits marked levels of resentment, because he was shown the way to the Promised Land only to be forced to return to life on earth.

In what is the most telling and hard-to-dismiss example, brain surgery patient Pam Reynolds (via archival video) describes watching her lifeless body on the operating table while identifying music playing in the operating room and specific medical instruments used by attending personnel.

Scene re-creating the near-death experience of Pam Reynolds, in "After Death." (Angel Studios)
Scene re-creating the near-death experience of Pam Reynolds, in "After Death." (Angel Studios)

Prior to the surgery, Reynolds (now deceased) was put into an induced coma and had her body temperature lowered to 50 degrees in order to prevent shock during the operation. It would have been impossible for her to recall any details of her operation, as she was clinically dead at the time.

From a technical perspective, “After Death” is particularly impressive. The dramatic reenactments, usually an Achilles heel in any documentary, are kept in check and are quite convincing. For me, this is due in part to replacing dialogue with voiceovers and keeping their inclusion to a bare minimum.

The “afterlife” visual interpretations are nothing less than stunning. Often recalling the final act of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” these (mostly) CGI images perfectly match the ethereal and ephemeral descriptions of existence in the great beyond by those who have been there, and it’s easy to see why none of them wished to return.

Science Concedes

Featured prominently in “After Death,” cardiologist Michael Sabom projects a demeanor that suggests healthy skepticism. Speaking in a matter-of-fact tone and thoroughly lacking in pretense, spin, or hyperbole, Dr. Sabom likens his position on afterlife occurrences to that of a prosecuting attorney.

His training as both a scientist and a doctor told him that trying to confirm something unprovable went against everything he knew, yet after decades of being exposed to dozens of unrelated cases with so much overlapping detail, he changed his mind. Later in the film, Dr. Sabom makes a pointed observation about the difference between the words “proof” and “evidence,” and how the latter applies to the belief in NDE.

Mirroring Dr. Sabom’s mindset are respected scholars Dr. Raymond Moody and Dr. Jeffrey Long, who were both also leery of the nonscientific, largely disprovable aspects of NDEs. At one point, all of these men set out to poke holes in the nonlogical aspects of existence beyond earth but could not.

These were not (but are now) men of faith; they were scientists who dealt in black and white. For them and others, to concede and ultimately extol the likelihood of life after death is more than enough for any and all nonbelievers to reconsider their (perhaps doubtful) previous positions.

Theatrical poster for "After Death." (Angel Studios)
Theatrical poster for "After Death." (Angel Studios)
“After Death” opens in theaters nationwide on October 27.
‘After Death’ Documentary Directors: Stephen Gray, Chris Radtke Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes MPAA Rating: PG13 Release Date: Oct. 27, 2023 Rating: 4 out of 5
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Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has provided film content to over 30 print and online media outlets. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a weekly contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on FloridaManRadio.com. Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles. He favors dark comedy, thrillers, and documentaries.
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