Five medical students, obsessed by the mystery of what lies beyond the confines of life, embark on a daring and dangerous experiment: by stopping their hearts for short periods of time, each triggers a near-death experience – giving them a firsthand account of the afterlife. But as their experiments become increasingly perilous, they are each haunted by the sins of their pasts, brought on by the paranormal consequences of trespassing to the other side.
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, the film was created from a screenplay by Ben Ripley and a story by Peter Filardi. “Flatliners is a journey into the unknown – the last unknown, you could say,” says Niels Arden Oplev. “It’s an outrageous subject, to travel beyond death and have your friends try to bring you back, to explore what’s on the other side.”
What could convince anyone to try something so dangerous? What else but the promise of groundbreaking – and fame-making – results.
“Imagine if they found the proof they were looking for: it would be the greatest medical discovery of the century,” says Oplev. “Courtney, played by Ellen Page, appeals to the pressure the other students feel in a cutthroat environment. As one character says: this is not a medical school that is educating country doctors – they are there to push the dial on human knowledge.”
What the medical students find is something they did not expect: having flatlined and faced death, they not only experience what the afterlife might be like – they come back better. “By traveling to the kingdom of death, they come back with enhanced abilities,” says Oplev. “They’re trying to shortcut themselves to greatness. But there’s a bill to be paid for doing that.”
And that bill is steep: as they face their deaths and resurrections, the characters are all forced to confront the regretful actions of their pasts. “All of us, at some point in our lives, have done something we’re either ashamed of or that we regret,” says producer Michael Douglas. As the students in the film face death, he says, it becomes a chance for them to face up to these sins. “As they are haunted by their mistakes, they discover that it’s never too late to try to remedy the past,” he continues.
On numerous occasions throughout the writing process, Ripley was able to accompany a neurologist friend at his work, sitting in on morning presentation meetings and interviewing medical students on neurology rotations.
“A lot of that made it into the script,” says Ripley. “We all wanted to keep things as believable as possible, so many of the medical situations you see in the movie are in fact written and executed with a high degree of realism.”
Flatliners starring Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton and Kiersey Clemons opens nationwide September 29th.