Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
Photo taken of a heartbeat on the monitor
Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Yes, the Film on Near-Death Experiences Is Another “Hated Hit”

As with Sound of Freedom, critics trashed After Death but audiences loved it. And the critics just aren’t keeping up with the science

Back in mid-October, I asked a question: Would Angel Studios’ new film about near-death experiences, After Death hit the marketplace the same way as their Sound of Freedom?

While SoF was trashed by fashionable media, it outgrossed some of the biggest films at the box office. Will After Death, directed by Stephen Gray and Chris Radtke, meet the same fate? its basic message is the way in which NDEs are becoming an intersection of science/medicine and faith and it will be interesting to see how the fashionable media react to that.

Well, we have our answer and it is, perhaps not surprisingly, yes and yes. The film is a hit. From its October 27 opening through early November, it has done very well done very well at the box office, especially for a documentary. Newsweek tells us, “The latest offering from the studio that delivered Sound of Freedom has also smashed box office expectations… the highest-grossing documentary since 2019.” As of November 10, it is the top doc in terms of sales at nearly $10 million.

Significantly, After Death is a hit at a time when much bigger studios like Disney are spinning their reels producing films the North American public is increasingly reluctant to pay money to see. For example, superhero-themed The Marvels is a box office disappointment, despite being projected to earn much more than a predecessor.

Why hated?

At one level, these turnabouts are easy to explain. There is a big gap these days between many historic film studios’ creative teams’ values and those of their customer base: One former Disney employee, for example, was the only individual in the creative working group who actually had children.

The question of why or how huge corporations can keep producing products few want to buy is a story for another day. For now, as we might expect, the current disconnect extends to the traditional film critics. After Death has gotten hated, just like Sound of Freedom did — but among critics, not among moviegoers.

From the conventional film critics we hear things like

“Fairly limp… The movie doesn’t unearth any new ground, and really, how could it? Indeed, it follows any number of documentaries that have contemplated the topic.” – Brian Lowry, CNN

A repetitive slog that’s only shape or narrative momentum comes from its slow unmasking as religious propaganda – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“Whether you believe these phenomena are spiritual journeys or visions created by the human mind (or both), the film loses its sense of epiphany in the lackluster jumble of its moviemaking.” – Nicolas Rapold, New York Times

“In a different life, “After Death” would be street trash. Its presentation would be as a small white pamphlet, printed in earnest and packed with bizarre stories overflowing from someone’s desire to share their faith, only for this paper to become more pollution. ” – Nick Allen at Robert Ebert.com

Hmm. If the film were really a “repetitive slog” or a “lacklustre jumble,” why would it be so popular? Who pays money to be bored?

Stats tell the story in a few numbers: The Tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes shows a score of 46% from the critics, compared to 88% from the audience, which is nearly double. That disjunction points to a well-known cultural reality: There is a vast gap is worldview between the people who end up as critics in major media venues and the people who pay to see films. So that part’s not unusual.

The interesting part in this case is that the landscape around near death experiences is changing and the critics may be less knowledgeable about that fact than the audiences.

Why a hit?

The current focus on near death experiences is not due to a spike in either religion or superstition; it is due to the unexpected outcome of efforts over the last fifty years to resuscitate human beings who are undergoing brain death, using high tech methods. Several big findings are changing the way the topic is understood:

Sick asian senior woman fainted unconscious at the table, fall face down,elderly female patient stop breathing due to heart failure, cardiac arrest,severe arrhythmia, sudden unexpected death syndrome.

People don’t die all at once. It takes minutes, maybe hours, depending on the body system we are considering. The patient who is resuscitated and thus does come back to tell the story may have experienced periods when the mind operated independently from a brain that was clinically dead. That is, the patient with a flat EEG (no brain signals) offers a correct account of what happened during the resuscitation. Near-death experiencers often recount remarkable spiritual experiences as well. Many hundreds of cases later, even Scientific American is not just outright dismissing the findings.

Of course, this entire research area has roughly the same effect on hard-core materialism as naphthalene has on moths. So it’s no wonder if some people fling increasingly ineffectual slurs.

But their behavior may come at a cost. The sophisticate who can afford to disdain what the riffraff admire is counting on superior knowledge. In this case, however, there is little or no evidence for the superior knowledge that the critic assumes. It’s just elite prejudice standing in for knowledge. As legacy media slowly decline into obsolescence in the internet era, such critics would do well to ask themselves whether they should try to get out more and keep up with the changes.

Note: Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and I will tackle the topic of near-death experiences, their experiencers and detractors, in detail in our upcoming book, The Human Soul (December 2024)

You may also wish to read: Will Studio’s new “After Death” be a hit like Sound of Freedom? The new 90-minute film interviews researchers and survivors of near-death experiences. Evidence of survival after death is an unexpected outcome of modern medicine. How will the fashionable media that trashed box office hit Sound of Freedom react?

Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Human Soul: What Neuroscience Shows Us about the Brain, the Mind, and the Difference Between the Two (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Yes, the Film on Near-Death Experiences Is Another “Hated Hit”