B.G. Hilton – Writer

In Search Of… S05E05 Life After Life

A new low-point for the show… or a new high point?

So, two things. Firstly, I’m not very interested in the topic of Near Death Experiences. If you are, that’s great. I’m not here to tell you shouldn’t be. But I find discussion of the topic unconvincing and repetitive. Secondly, In Search Of covered this already in season 1 – Life After Death.

That one tried to create drama with shots of trauma teams in hospitals, which was one of the best decisions of the episode. This one rather less successfully uses footage of US soldiers in Vietnam, fading to flashing lights, then to a shrouded figure. It’s a valiant try, but it’s not one of In Search Of’s best low-budget visuals. It’s a lead in to basically talking about a near death experience of a former soldier who survived the loss of three limbs in battle.

He basically talks about how he had a near death experience before he operated on and recovered. Intercutting Vietnam battle footage with his story seems… Cheap, I guess? His story is… Well, people who find this sort of thing convincing will find it convincing, and those who don’t, won’t. The visuals get a bit better when they drop the battle footage in favour of quieter footage of medivac copters, surgical staff scrubbing up and silhouetted figures against a white background.

Nimoy, standing next to some clunky looking 1970s electronic medical device, talks about how the soldier probably would have died of his injuries, had it been WWII. Quite possibly correct. But then we go on a tangent, with the old chestnut about knowing precisely when death occurs. And yes, death is a process, not a moment. So is conception, by the way. But we insist that there is some sort of specific instant when the switch flips between ‘alive’ and ‘not alive’. Our minds need clear boundaries to understand things, but the world is very hit-and-miss about providing said boundaries.

Next up comes a doctor who Nimoy insists is trying to pinpoint the exact difference between life and death. The doctor basically says that you can’t pinpoint that moment. Some people are very clearly alive, others quite certainly dead, but every definition of ‘moment of death’ turns out to have exceptions.

All this is interesting, but it doesn’t tell us if that soldier in Vietnam really saw his dead friends while he was on the table, or if he just dreamt them.

And now… animal cruelty. Bald guy in a labcoat is freezing rats to try to define the instant of death, says Nimoy. Going to bet that’s not really the point of his experiments. Anyway, he tries to explain the difference between the clinical death of a rat and the biological death, but mostly we’re watching a rat freeze to death. We’re having a little interlude talking about cryonics for some reason… Oh, we’re talking about someone who almost froze to death in Canada?

Reenactment – the camera crew is actually in the snow. Some be-plaided Canadians are snowshoeing along. Supposedly teenagers on a hike. One of the kids collapsed and the others went for help. Cut to Canadian doctor explaining how the kid had no signs of life. The doctor revived the kid who – in spite of not breathing for quite some time – had no signs of brain damage.

We talk to the kid, who’s now in the Canadian Army. He talks about not being afraid of death any more, which would be kind of handy if he was in a different army, but a little superfluous where he is. The doctor gives the same spiel about the difference between clinical and biological death that we’ve already heard before. Nimoy gives the same spiel about there being no fine line between life and death that we heard before.  Nimoy talks about moving from life to death ‘logically’.

Talking to another surgeon, this one apparently interested in LDEs. He compares LDEs to dream states. He drones a bit, this one, but basically, he thinks LDEs represent something real rather than a hallucination. Cut to talking about a woman who nearly died of polio. There’s a weird reenactment of her walking with difficulty, which doesn’t add much. Anyway, white light, suspenseful music, some women in white gauze standing in what looks like California scrubland.

So bored.

She says something kind of interesting about how she understood the consequences of everything she did and didn’t do, and all the ‘black marks’ she had concerned things she didn’t do. Then some swirling footage of a dry riverbed and a cloudy sky and a reenactor in a hospital bed. It’s okay, I guess, but this show has done this sort of thing before, and it’s done it better.

Back to footage sunlight, while Nimoy waxes lyrical about not knowing what this means, but there’s totally an afterlife. We talk to a theologian, which is interesting, because usually we only talk to people who have had these experiences or interested medical people, rather than people whose whole deal is the afterlife. This theologian says that the near death experience may be a way to remove the fear of death from society.

And that’s what a lot of In Search Of is about – reassuring watchers that they won’t die. They’ll become ghosts or reincarnate or be frozen or have a life after death and/or life after life. It doesn’t seem to matter much that these lifelines get a little tangled. If the Canadian kid almost walked into the light after being frozen, doesn’t that mean that cryonic subjects are dead? I don’t even know.

Anyway, in conclusion, we don’t know what life is, we don’t know what death is, but life after death is definitely real. Otherwise how would Spock get back from the Genesis Planet?

Quote

“We cannot say for sure that the life after life experience is really death itself.” — Diagram that sentence, Spock.

Summing Up

Visuals: 5/10, Music: 5/10, Nimoyness: 5/10, Vietnam footage: 5/10. Costuming for reenactments: 5/10. Overall: 25/50, near perfect mediocrity.

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