It’s only fitting that Stephen Gray and Chris Radtke’s documentary “After Death” is released on Halloween weekend. The stories and reenactments by the people who died, died (sorry, the Jim Carroll Band just popped in my head) are scary as hell. Pilots smash into a mausoleum, a guy has a head-on collision with a semi-truck on a rainy night, a woman goes over a waterfall in a kayak, and then there’s the man who dies and is met by hooded figures who pull a Clive Barker on him before being rescued by … It’s fascinating at times as near-death survivors recount their experiences while scientists and doctors try to explain the phenomena, but science and faith don’t harmonize. It’s like Jesus returning to Earth to give a lecture on the Big Bang theory.
“Medically, scientifically, the point of death cannot be defined” states cardiologist Dr. Michael Sabom. The author of “Recollections of Death” goes on to explain that there is a process of dying where the near-death experience occurs. He is one of the documentary’s professional talking heads (most have written books about the NDE phenomena) who shares his thoughts while attempting to draw a reasonable explanation of the survivor’s accounts. Sabom is also the doc’s official “skeptic” who suggests “People need to keep an open mind to what’s going on” while drawing the conclusion that some things can’t be explained.
John Burke, the New York Times best-selling author of “Imagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You” speaks with enthusiasm about Texas army recruit George Ritchie, one of the first people to publicly recall his near-death experience which took place in 1943. He was pronounced dead after a bout with pneumonia but was resuscitated when an attendant noticed movement in his chest. Cut to archival footage of Ritchie (who passed away in 2007) being interviewed on television by Joan Rivers. She asks, “What happened during those nine minutes?” He answers, “I met the Christ” explaining he was in the presence of the Son of God who took him through four realms of life after death. He goes on to say that death is just the gateway to the afterlife
Dr. Raymond Moody (also featured in the documentary), a psychiatrist, philosopher, and physician, attended a lecture by Ritchie which prompted him to begin investigating the NDE phenomena. He went on to write several books about the afterlife including the best-seller “Life After Life.”
Of course, all the “experts” in the doc and some of the survivors are best-selling authors, I mean, I would probably write a book if I had an NDE, which emphasizes the interest in life after death. Just look at the number of paranormal shows in production, we hunger for validation of the afterlife. The number of people who believe once we die it’s game over is growing (a point made by the filmmakers), and I don’t think this documentary will sway their beliefs. So, if Gray and Radtke are hoping to convert non-believers, it’s going to be tough. Their primary target is faith-based moviegoers looking for comfort that God has their back, but that message is diluted by the frightening survivor accounts and the even more frightening reenactments that suggest there’s a good chance we are going to go through hell before reaching the Pearly Gates.
Majestic scenes of oceans and mountains intermixed with sensational bursts of color and light accompany the survivor-narrated scenes as they share their experiences with God, “I knew that I was being held by Christ as purely as I know anything” states Dr. Mary Neal an avid kayaker who drowned after going over a waterfall in Los Rios Region, Chile. “I know it sounds crazy” she explains while laughing, a sentiment shared by other survivors who were hesitant at first to tell their stories for fear they would be perceived as nuts.
Don Piper, author of “90 Minutes in Heaven” who was involved in a collision with a semi-truck on a bridge while driving through Huntsville, Texas states “I didn’t want to come back” after his NDE but he didn’t get a choice. It wasn’t his time.
“After Death” comes from Angel Studios, the company behind “Sound of Freedom” which grossed over $230 million. Like the Netflix docu-series “Surviving Death” and countless other movies and documentaries that deal with near-death experiences, the stories shared by the survivors have common traits and many end with an encounter with what they believe is God or Christ. The key word in that last sentence is “believe.” Was it God? Was it Christ? It all comes down to what you believe. Stephen Gray and Chris Radtke may not bring anything new to the table but it’s a fascinating topic and their documentary should reaffirm the beliefs of those who are down with an afterlife. If that’s you, there is comfort here but only after bearing witness to some very frightening moments. For the skeptics, there’s always Miguel singing “Remember Me” to little Coco honoring the memories of our lost loved ones.
“After Death” is now showing in theaters