Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Kind of Waking Life

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a very interesting movie called After.Life. It’s an intriguing premise that apparently resulted in a wretched film. Christina Ricci is a woman (a spoiled, horrid, difficult, self-absorbed, idiotic woman) who is in a car accident and wakes up on Liam Neeson the undertaker’s slab. Apparently, Ricci is a spirit who hasn’t been able to understand that she’s dead, and Neeson has the power to convince her to accept her fate. As their conversations continue, she gains an increasingly deathly pallor, her body catching up to her actual situation of being dead.

This fancy little idea is not the actual point of the movie, however. I don’t mind spoiling it for you, because the movie is supposed to be pretty terrible, and the movie itself isn’t why I’m writing. It turns out that Neeson’s character is just a creepy serial killer who’s using the ‘confused souls’ story as a cover: He’s slowly injecting Ricci with chemicals to make her appear as if she’s dying, cutting off more and more pieces of her clothing for no good reason, and will end by burying her ‘alive.’

After reading the reviewer’s dismissal of the film as “veering into Saw territory,” I was pretty disappointed too. I thought the idea of an undertaker who had to deal with his self-reanimating corpses was pretty brilliant in itself. There’s no need to turn it into a samey serial killer story. In fact, this could make a brilliant black comedy. Consider this: What kind of person would die and refuse to believe that they’re dead. The character Ricci plays in the movie is actually quite like what one of those people would be: Someone so self-absorbed, so convinced that the world revolves around them, that they would find it incredible that the world would go on without them, or that they would die in an absurd accident, that their deaths would be anything other than epic or noteworthy. Can you imagine having to talk someone like that into humility?

That’s where the comedy comes in. This poor undertaker, who I would imagine as a bit more nebbishy, or at least a little less fit, than Liam Neeson, just wants to get on with his business of dressing the dead for their funerals. It’s fine when it comes to the nice old ladies and well-adjusted people dying of sudden heart attacks or terminal illnesses. But so much of his time is filled with exasperating conversations with utterly wretched people. Plus, he has a funeral deadline to convince them to make.

I think I’ll put this on my list of short stories to write. It will finally give me a chance to use Erin May, this reporter character I developed a couple of years ago for a novel treatment that went nowhere (too pretentious). She can investigate his funeral home after the Ricci character starts walking and talking during her own funeral, cajoling people about how little they appreciate her. I've been wanting to write something articulating her plucky jadedness for a while now, and this story might suit it perfectly. It would be a good practice for writing irrealism too.

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