Cold com­forts: the sweet here­after on the big screen

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

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.

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