A Matter of Life and Death (1946) – dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1946 film A Matter of Life and Death stars David Niven as a British fighter pilot who – perhaps miraculously – survives a plane crash.
He has visions of the afterlife, where he learns a paperwork snafu is responsible for his survival. Since he has fallen in love during his “extra time,” he must plead his case for a prolonged life.
The audience is contintually informed that the whole vision is simply a function of Niven’s brain damage. This is disappointing, because the afterlife scenes – filmed in black and white as a reversal of The Wizard of Oz – are so much more interesting than the earth scenes.
It is notable that the afterlife is never referred to as Heaven, and appears to be a fairly secular place in the most generic way possible.
It is populated exclusively by the dead from Allied countries. Powell and Pressburger do their best to avoid offending anyone, since the film’s focus is more on strengthining Anglo-American relations than on telling a story.
The film had its purpose in 1946, and functions best today as a look back to then.
A Matter of Life and Death is #137 on the TSPDT 1000 list I’m blogging through. I’ve now seen 400.