• Golden Globe Awards

Oral History: Joel Schumacher talks about death

Joel Schumacher, who passed away in 2020, often spoke to HFPA journalists about movies he directed, such as A Time to Kill (1996) and The Phantom of the OperaFlatliners starring Julia RobertsKiefer Sutherland.
“Certainly, death is a subject that crosses all of our minds from time to time. I was shooting a documentary at a symposium for 250 people who had AIDS, with their families, doctors, psychiatrists, healers. So, I was hearing from people who were near death, about their fears, their courage, their humor, and a lot of the talk was about incomplete business, people wanting to make amends. And when I got back to the hotel room, the script of Flatliners was there, so it seemed fatalistic that it was all about death.”
“The Gallup Poll thinks that 20 million Americans have had near-death experiences, so, as we say in the movies, ‘How can you explain that so many people all over the world have had similar experiences about death? Maybe it’s a hormone that’s released in the brain when we’re dying to make it easier for us.’”
“Hopefully, if you believe that there is something after death, perhaps you have a better quality of life, and if there isn’t something, you won’t know anyway. So, we were all in agreement that we wanted to make a movie about this and not set up a generic death experience that would say, ‘We know what death is like. This is what it’s going to be like when you die.’  What we tried to stay ethical to was that each person’s death experience is really part of their own life experience and of their psyche. The only purpose in making a movie about death is to affirm life, so that’s what we tried to do.”
“Certainly, since time began, there have been stories which have touched on what goes on beyond death, so there’s a tradition of that. And I think that now we are living much closer to death because of terrorism, the Middle East, AIDS, drugs, crime, the poor and the homeless. So, the young generation going to movies today is very aware of death, whereas, after Vietnam, there was a tremendous desire in this country to sweep it away and pretend it didn’t exist, everybody was in designer jeans and discoing, and there was a party atmosphere which continued through the Reagan years.”
“There used to be a philosophy which was about protecting young people from this, ‘Let’s not tell them about death yet.’ Whereas everybody today knows somebody in their life who died very young, because of AIDS or drugs or cancer, or people being killed on the street as they walk to work. So, we’re all living with this as a constant reminder, and death is something we need to share as a part of our life. Let’s hope Whoopi GoldbergGhost