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induce brain death and, one minute later, revive him. “Philosophy failed. Religion failed. Now it’s up to the physical sciences,” claims Nelson, a Hippocratic Faust. Flatliners does not, and could not, provide answers to death. But, as though bored with the questions, it diverts our attention from eschatology to mere psychology. The film, which derives its title from the leveled pulse on an electrocardiogram, is ultimately more interested in the earlier lives of its five young characters than in an exploration of the afterlife. Grotesque pranks are part of the standard folklore of medical school, but what Nelson and his comrades gather to do goes beyond scattering cadaver parts at the supermarket. In the still of the night, they smuggle surgical equipment into a cavernous, Hellenic chamber of fictional Taft University and prepare to create Lazarus on an operating table. Fired by a combination of personal ambition, intellectual curiosity, and private demons, these future physicians of America have more grandiose concerns than tax shelters. It ain’t brain surgery that they pursue but something even more momentous than that. They dream of being canonized on 60 Minutes and are documenting their experiences with a video camera and a tape recorder. “We have finally found something worthwhile,” exults Ranof the five, “something to upstage those fuck ing baby boomers.” All were born around 1967, too late to partake of Woodstock, Freedom Summer, or the March on the Pentagon. But, if this trick works, they will have vindicated their generation; not even Bob Dylan was born again in the way that Nelson proposes. And Flatliners itself directed by Joel Schumacher, whose credits include The Lost Boys and St. Elmo’ s Fire, and starring a cast known not for King Lear but Footloose and Young Guns seems a bid to prove that the adolescence of post-post-war babies is past. The science behind Flatliners is dubious, but, once Nelson gives up the ghost and then returns, the others vie to go next and to outdo each other in time spent on the other side of death. One minute. One minute, 30 seconds. Two minutes, 20 seconds. Five minutes. On successive nights, everyone but Steckel is put to sleep and then revived. Extraordinary as the procedure is, resuscitation proves less problematic than coping with the ghosts that haunt each of the young adventurers. During the moments that each spends flatlining on the operating table, the camera moves through a montage of memories that continue to obsess even after a successful return to life. What is disappointing about Flatliners is that the quest for truth about whether, like the charwoman, we all come to dust, becomes merely the pretext for an expiation of a guilty past, a rather banal one at that. When avowed lines solely, he explains, to provide a skeptical control to the experiment he finds himself tormented by the vulgar invective of a 10-year-old black girl. She is the specter of a neighborhood child whom prepubescent David used to pick on. All that David now needs to do to purge himself of this rather airy burden of shame is seek out the grown-up woman and apologize. Nelson’s spook is more violent the 8-year-old wimp he had knocked out of a tree and who now returns with a hockey stick to wreak revenge. peace with the beloved father she believes committed suicide because of her. Compulsive philanderer Joe Hurley \(William Baldbedded and secretly taped. Miasmal shots of nocturnal Chicago streets and a sacred choral track give Flatliners an otherworldly feel. But it is less the ghost of Dante than that of Sigmund Freud who hovers over the proceedings. The film provides an inadvertent caricature of his etiology of neurosis and his method of de-traumatizing the past by making the subconscious conscious. Flatliners cannot be faulted for a failure to imagine what lies beyond death, but its creators bear guilt for their shoddy account of what precedes it. Its delinquent characters must still find absolution from the authorities at their medical school. No Exit BY MICHAEL KING LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN Directed by Uli Edel Screenplay by Desmond Nakano Based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr. WERE IT TO BE written today, Last Exit to Brooklyn would not be a likely candidate for a grant from the NEA. First published in 1964, it was considered a breakthrough novel of the period, setting a new standard for sexual frankness, not to say social depravity. I can remember being caught in “serious” discussions over whether it met the then-prevailing standard for obscenity; that is, if “taken as a whole,” it was “utterly without socially redeeming value.” Readers who had not blinked at Henry Miller’s sexual cornucopia found Selby more than little hard to take. Unlike Miller, there was no joy or celebration in him. On the contrary, his lower depths were filled with desperate victims and brutal vic Michael King is a frequent contributor to the Observer. timizers, not only unredeemed but unredeemable. The Brooklyn of Exit is a violent and hellish human cesspool, and sex only the most bestial theater of domination and submission. Despite this unrelenting grimness, or perhaps in part because of it, the novel has retained a fairly sizable reputation, particularly in European circles which have always preferred a bleakly naturalistic portrait of the States, for whom Native Son is the central Afro-American novel and Charles Bukowski is the true heir to the American poetic tradition. This, so the feeling goes, is the dark underbelly of the American dream, a vision verite which puts the lie to exported tales of glistening prosperity and social happiness. Those pollyanna-ish tales are perhaps less common than they once were; the novel in fact recalls with a heavily jaundiced eye the heady days of the early ’50s, to an infernal Brooklyn seemingly untouched by postwar optimism and confidence. Selby’s title is bitterly sardonic, of course; those who exit here will soon discover they should abandon all hope. Even judged as a nightmare, Selby’s world is a harrowing one, reminiscent of Celine or an obscene variation on Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground: there is a whiff of nihilism on every page. Portentous and aggrandizing in style \(each section begins with a solemn epigraph from the Old Testament, which the narrative then grotesquely underhoodlums, amateur hookers, drug-popping queens, malevolently corrupt union officials, and their feckless underlings. Everyone is either a hustler or a mark, a drifter or a john, pausing intermittently only to exchange roles. Extreme violence is an ordinary reflex the novel is regularly punctuated by casual brutality. Less a coherent whole than a series of extended vignettes, Exit recounts dozens of personal sketches, but focuses upon a few gargoyle-like characters: Georgette, the “hip queer” \(one of a group of rough-trade transand fantastic dreams of true romance with a vicious ex-con, Vinnie, who amuses himself by making Georgette beg for sex; Tralala, the apprentice chippie who sets up drunken sailors for Vinnie and his cronies to mug, and THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19