"After.Life" is a 2009 film directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo and starring Christina Ricci. The movie deals with the complex issues of what it means to be alive, and does so through its first two acts with surprising skill and deftness of touch. The major plot device has the protagonist debating whether she is alive or dead, finding herself unsure what to use as evidence because her life so lacks worth and intimacy.
Characters Are Introduced
Anna Taylor -- played by Christina Ricci -- is a cold, distant, apathetic schoolteacher who maintains her relationships, such as they are, as deliberately stunted versions of what they could be. She moves through her life in a less-than-present, somnambulant fog, maintaining a disconnected relationship with her boyfriend, Paul, portrayed by Justin Long, and alienated by her mother. Her one departure from the security of disassociation is an attraction toward a bullied, quiet, sensitive little boy called Jack. Jack returns Anna's affection and interest, and expresses a peculiar interest in understanding death.
All Is Not As It Appears to Be
Anna and Paul have a relationship-ending argument. Anna bolts from the restaurant where this happens straight into a catastrophic car accident. She comes to as a funeral director, Eliot Deacon, played by Liam Neeson, is preparing her body for burial. Anna, in her opinion still very much in the land of the living, is understandably both perplexed and horrified. Eliot speaks to her, explaining that she is in a state of limbo between regular life and the afterlife, and that he has the power to communicate with people in that state. Eliot vacillates between a conciliatory tone and a bored "everyone's like this to begin with" attitude. An intense and unforgiving battle of wits ensues between the two principals, during which neither party comes off as particularly sympathetic.
Neeson's presence is something of a surprise in a piece that reeks of a low budget, and first-time director Wojtowicz-Vosloo brings both charm and depth from the actor in what initially promises to be a two-dimensional, expository character. She also manages sequences of dream imagery with skill and coordination, and her attention to detail in observing the everyday state of most people's every day is intentionally as frightening as the subject matter itself.
Tone and Subject Matter
Ricci's portrayal of the living Anna as lifeless in all but the most technical sense is a meditation on how little value most people place on every day. This theme is explored dexterously and with thought-provoking insight throughout the first two thirds of the movie.
The film does not offer a neat ending. The largest unanswered question throughout the movie is the obvious one: is Anna really alive or really dead? Is the mortician telling the truth, or some weird and creepy pervert with an agenda of his own? Both perceptions are given equal weight. On that score the movie keeps its audience guessing throughout, but rather annoyingly the lack of certitude includes the ending. The close is likely to perplex and, quite possibly, irritate any aficionado of typically American films.
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