LOS ANGELES — The first “Flatliners,” released in 1990, was shot in Chicago and starred Kiefer Sutherland as a medical student who convinces his fellow budding doctors to join him in a dangerous experiment to briefly stop their lives. It’s all about an attempt to glimpse into the afterlife.
A quarter-century later, Sutherland appears in the new “Flatliners” remake (opening Friday), playing a top hospital physician who oversees medical students played by Ellen Page, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, Nina Dobrev and Diego Luna. Page’s character”actually mirrors the character Kiefer played in the first film. Both of us were the instigators of this experiment,” the actress told me.
“Kiefer had lots of great things to say about Chicago, working with Kevin Bacon and Julia Roberts and all that,” she added. “He did mention that he loved so many of the shooting locations and thought they added a kind of dark authenticity to the movie — especially your science museum [Museum of Science and Industry],” said Page, who did her filming in Toronto. “I don’t know why we didn’t shoot [in Chicago] this time, but I’m sure it was all about budgets!”
“Flatliners” actors did a lot of thinking about life after death as they were filming — “and we still think about it,” said Norton, perhaps best known for portraying the title character in the BBC/PBS series “Grantchester.”
“No matter whether you are a person of faith or not, it’s clearly something you do ponder when you work on something like this,” he said. “It’s a big question. Yet, of course, to be honest, we have no clue. I think the whole film is about Kiefer’s line [from the second film] when he discovers what we’re up to: ‘Don’t go there, because it’s supposed to be unknown to the living.’ ”
In both films, after the students have their near-death experiences, things take an ugly turn, as long-suppressed feelings of guilt for shameful or unfortunate behavior come back to haunt them. That guilt comes to life via scary re-creations of those past events or individuals they have wronged.
Page agreed that feelings of guilt can stick with us — even in our deep subconscious — for a long, long time. “There are different forms of guilt, because we are, hopefully, empathetic creatures. Those range from silly things that we shouldn’t feel guilty about to much more serious things that we should feel guilty about.
“Regardless of whether it is something that we’ve done that we regret, it’s something we have to address and not hide away. I think figuratively — and in this case literally — those guilts will come back to haunt you to the point where you endanger yourself.”