Program Notes: Resurrection (1980)
Resurrection (1980) is a great example of Woo Woo Cinema.
Not familiar with the term?
Woo Woo Cinema is to New Age beliefs what Christian Cinema is to more traditional religion.
There are numerous examples of Hollywood getting all metaphysical on us, like the Robin Williams film What Dreams May Come (our hero scours the afterlife to rescue the soul of his suicidal wife). Or the Albert Brooks comedy Defending Your Life (a newly deceased schlub must prove in a heavenly courtroom that he didn’t waste his time on Earth).
There are plenty of examples in international cinema as well, such as the Japanese After Life (dead souls congregate in a celestial way station) or German auteur Wim Wenders’ wonderful Wings of Desire (an angel becomes mortal so that he can love a circus trapeze artist).
Usually these films deliver their messages through metaphor.
But not Resurrection, a starkly earthbound story of one woman’s encounter with the next world.
It’s easy to scoff at films that attempt this sort of thing, but Resurrection – written by Lewis John Carlino (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, The Great Santini) and directed by Hollywood veteran Daniel Petrie (responsible for TV landmarks like Eleanor and Franklin and Sybil and the landmark film A Raisin in the Sun) – cannot be so easily dismissed.
The film is extremely well made and spectacularly acted and it hews closely to what we know (or think we know) about near-death experiences as reported in Raymond Moody’s 1975 study of the phenomenon, Life After Life.
Ellen Burstyn is excellent as Edna, who loses her husband and almost her life in a car accident. While unconscious she finds herself in a sort of tunnel approaching a bright light, and senses around her the presence of family members who have passed on.
As she painfully recovers from her crippling injuries, Edna slowly realizes that her life has undergone a dramatic change. Part of it is a newly-discovered open-mindedness. But particularly amazing is her ability to channel some sort of cosmic power that allows her to heal others, though each session leaves her feeling drained.
Eventually Edna becomes the center of a sort of spiritual movement, alienating her fundamentalist family and totally freaking out Cal (Sam Shepard), the studly, cycle-riding country boy with whom she took up after her husband’s death.
This sort of material is loaded with potential for silliness, so what’s really remarkable about Resurrection is its ability to dabble in both the metaphysical and the grittily realistic without losing its balance.
The film offers a degree of psychological realism rarely seen in enterprises of this sort, and Burstyn’s performance – she was nominated for the best actress Oscar – is arguably the greatest of her career.
Among the supporting players are terrific actors like Richard Farnsworth, Roberts Blossom, Jeffrey DeMunn, Lois Smith, Richard Hamilton, Carlin Glynn and theatrical legend Eva Le Gallienne in one of her last screen appearances (for which she received an Oscar nom for supporting actress).
See Bob's general introduction to the Fool for Cinema film series.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He's married to the former Ellen Vaughan; they are the proud parents of LA-based comedian, writer, director and TV personality Blair Butler. He used to be a dog person but now lives with two cats, thus demonstrating the flexibility of the human condition.