Of Hollywood, Heaven, and Hooking Up

Relationship first, and then sex.

Your humble correspondent does not generally care for chick flicks.  Alas, one of the costs of marriage is that from time to time Indiana Jones must make way for Love's Unending Twitterpations.  Thus it was that I found myself watching the "romantic comedy" Just Like Heaven.

To my surprise, it wasn't a total waste of time - and no, not only because of Reese Witherspoon's pulchritude.  As the story progressed, it followed a pattern most unusual, and just possibly a welcome sign of societal change.

I'm Not Dead Yet!  Yes, You Are...

Ms. Witherspoon plays Dr. Elizabeth Masterson, a physician wholly dedicated to her hospital job to the exclusion of all else.  After a 26-hour slog in the emergency room, she heads home in the rain, but her reaction time is a little fuzzy and she doesn't see the Mack truck skidding towards her with predictably unpleasant consequences.

Meanwhile, recently-widowed David Abbott searches for a homey apartment in which to drown his sorrows.  Upon finding the perfect pad, he moves in, but is startled to find it already occupied by a beautiful amnesiac blonde who appears and disappears unexpectedly and whom nobody else can see, but who insists it's her home and that he doesn't belong there.

As the story progresses, David and the ghost-girl become partners in discovery, eventually realizing that she is the spirit of Elizabeth.  Why is she stuck there?  You see, Elizabeth's body is lying in the hospital on life support, trapped in a coma ever since the car wreck; her family leased out her furnished apartment to help pay for her care.

At the climax of the movie, an aggressive doctor pushes Elizabeth's sister to pull the plug on her, as "it's been three months and brain activity is only decreasing."  David knows better but can't get anyone else to listen to him except psychics and small children.  By this time he's in love with Elizabeth and can't bear to lose her, and so must take extreme measures to reconnect mind and body.  Spoiler alert: he's successful and they presumably live happily ever after, as opposed to the more likely outcome of his serving 5 to 7 for kidnapping and abusing a corpse.

The plot tension hinges around Elizabeth's living will in which she clearly said that she did not want to be kept on life support forever.  "But that was before!" wails Ghost-Elizabeth, whom nobody but David can hear.  The machines show that she's brain dead; she knows better.

"All my training is to trust the machines!"  Yet the movie portrays it as patently obvious that human beings are more than machines and science doesn't know everything.  Shades of the Terry Schiavo debate!

Moral and practical concerns about disconnecting coma victims aside, the movie had an even more stunning conservative argument: It portrayed the development of a vibrant, deeply loyal loving relationship entirely devoid of sex.

Shag Now or Shag Later?

You see, Ghost-Elizabeth died clothed and appears likewise.  As one would expect of a ghost, she can't physically touch anything - not the phone, not the doorknob, and certainly not David.  All she can do is talk to him; all he can do is talk back to her, and by simple conversation they fall in love.

Is this just a scripting accident forced by the exigencies of the scenario?  No: the contrast is starkly drawn in the person of gorgeous and insatiably horny downstairs neighbor Katrina, who'll stop at nothing to get David in the sack.  Yet when he finds her standing naked in his hallway, open-armed, begging him to join her... he can only say "I'm seeing someone" and turn away.  He passes up the physical-only relationship for the far deeper mental-only relationship he's established with Ghost-Elizabeth.

Is this realistic?  In today's world, it seems hard to imagine; what normal guy wouldn't jump all over the hot babe who wants him?  At least, that's what we're led to believe by most of popular culture.

Yet that is not how human beings truly work.  Sure, sex is great; but what of the morning after?  What of the year after?  What of the decade after?  We all grow old, wrinkly, and feeble; and when twilight comes, the long-dead physical attraction will be a distant memory while a true emotional and mental relationship can last a lifetime and beyond.

Is it possible that Hollywood is beginning to realize that maybe, just maybe, there's more to life than rolling in the hay with as many partners as possible?  In Juno and Knocked Up, we saw movies portraying an unborn child as truly a person deserving of life, no matter how accidentally or unfortunately he or she came to be created.

At the end of Juno, where the title character starts to actually build a relationship with the father of her child, she points out that you're really supposed to do it the other way 'round - relationship developing to the point of marriage first and then kids.  In Just Like Heaven, we watch that being done - forced so by the odd circumstances, but with far better and more satisfying results than our usual modern preference of the immediate test-drive.

Is Hollywood beginning to get it?  Stay tuned....

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
Last week doctors discovered that a Belgian guy who they'd thought was in a coma for 23 years, had actually been awake all that time but paralyzed.


So, yeah, we shouldn't be too quick to pull the plug, ghost or no ghost. :-)
November 24, 2009 9:48 AM
Thanks for the movie review - can hardly wait to see it - maybe this Thanksgiving weekend.
November 24, 2009 11:38 AM
It's ok to be human and have emotions, as well as express them; and it's even more ok to let your values be private and solid, uninfluenced by trends, popularity and how others might see you.
Well done, sir.
November 24, 2009 3:31 PM
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