Cold comforts: the sweet hereafter on the big screen
What does hell look like? That’s easy. It’s all fire and brimstone. Demons poke you with red-hot pokers and Sex and the City plays on a continuous loop.
That image, brewed in the bible, developed by Dante, has appeared in dozens of films. From Bedazzled to Deconstructing Harry to South Park, the fiery underworld (minus the Sex and the City, of course) has become the standard vision of eternal damnation.
But what of heaven? Peter Jackson, director of
and Alice Sebold, author of the source novel, would probably balk at the use of the H-word, but Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan, above), a virtuous girl, dies and finds herself in a sort of paradise. Sounds like heaven to us. A mess of psychedelic lakes, scarlet skies and prog-rock surrealism, this heaven would surely leave most adults begging for the pitchforks.
A similar, though slightly more painterly class of bliss greeted Robin Williams in the strange 1998 film
(Mind you, with Robbo there, any other visitors could reasonably take this as a particularly unforgiving Hades.) The truth is that film-makers have had great difficulty making heaven seem anything other than an almighty bore. Michael Powell’s
is one of the greatest films ever made, but the cold reception room that awaits recently deceased airmen seems about as inviting as your local butcher’s shop.
It’s hardly surprising that, as in eternal paradise usually waits unseen beyond a vague dazzling light or, as in
starring Jimmy Stewart (below), is represented allegorically. You will remember that, at the start of Frank Capra’s great film, the angels appear as gossiping stars. Better that than the cover of an Emerson, Lake and Palmer album.