The sequel to 1990's Flatliners tells a similar story to the original: overeager medical students die and resurrect themselves to experience the rush of the afterlife. But one ambiguous detail had to be fleshed out in this new version, mainly because contemporary audiences are way less willing to roll with the punches.
In the original film, the students who flatline are haunted by ghostly visions of past regrets—whether it’s bullying a kid in high school, or feeling guilty about a father who committed suicide. Only they aren’t actual ghosts, they’re hallucinations (some of the visions are of dead people, but not all of them). This isn’t really explained in the original film, but it didn’t need to be. And not a lot of people seemed to care at the time. However, in an interview with CinemaBlend, sequel director Niels Arden Oplev said test audiences got super confused about “living ghosts,” so they had to change it.
One of the elements that gave us the most trouble was that back in the day nobody asked a question about why they were haunted by someone who was still alive. Whereas the audience today was like, “They’re haunted by someone who is still alive?” So that thing has become a rule.
Oplev said they later added an explainer (during reshoots) that showed the protagonists weren’t being haunted by ghosts, but that they were hallucinating visions of people both living and dead. Basically, they were tripping from the high that is bringing yourself back from the dead, so they’re tweaking out a bit. This ties into the whole “flatlining is a drug” theme that’s a bit more prevalent in the newer film.
“That was a major point, because some of the audience was confused about that,” Oplev said. “I don’t think they are anymore, because we did some re-edits to explain: ‘Wait a minute, we never said that this was real.’”
The new Flatliners is out Friday, September 29.