Metacritic (8/10), Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10), TMDB.com (4/5)
Talking about the subject of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) was once about as taboo as speaking about UFOs or seeing a psychiatrist – sure signs that someone was probably psychologically unstable, even if he or she merely believed in these things, let alone having had experiences with them. Thankfully, however, those days are largely behind us now, and speaking about them openly and honestly has become much more rational and commonplace. Such is the case in this new offering from directors Stephen Gray and Chris Radtke, who provide a comprehensive look at a subject that was once considered suspect – even laughable – but is now taken quite seriously, including by those who were once among its greatest detractors. The film presents a detailed look at the phenomenon, featuring interviews with such researchers as Raymond Moody, often credited as being primarily responsible for bringing NDEs into the mainstream dialogue, and experiencers of these events. It also presents a series of NDE re-enactments, including depictions of what led up to them and what happened as the experiences unfolded, all backed by stunningly gorgeous CGI effects of an admittedly indescribable reality and a beautifully emotive original score. This combination of elements thus provides an excellent overview of what make up NDEs while simultaneously conveying the obviously heartfelt emotions associated with them, bringing the experiences home to viewers in a way that other documentaries on the subject haven’t previously been able to accomplish. It sheds profound light on what can happen when one goes through these existential gateways and how returnees are often fundamentally changed by the experiences, giving them new outlooks on life and their purpose in it. While it’s true that this offering doesn’t present much that’s especially new about NDEs and that its pacing can be a little slow (and redundant) at times, it nevertheless does a superb job of immersing audiences in the material, again, a big improvement over previous attempts at addressing this subject. And pay no heed to the cynics who have erroneously called this little more than religious propaganda; while it’s true there are a handful of Christian-oriented references scattered throughout the film, the overall take here is more spiritual in nature, an ecumenical approach at examining the afterlife than one that’s exclusively rooted in any particular theological tradition. Viewers who may have been skeptical, unfamiliar with or skittish about this subject may find themselves surprisingly enlightened by what this release has to say. And the fact that it’s playing widely in mainstream theaters to astonishingly well-attended audiences also speaks volumes about the appeal and apparent universality of this title. As this film so astutely shows, death isn’t the end – and it’s high time we stopped looking at it that way.