This is really a strange little movie – but kind of heartwarming all the same. I had it from Netflix for almost a week because even though I wanted to see it, I dreaded it too because I figured I would cry over it.
Yup, I did.
Normal kids don’t hang out at strangers’ funerals for fun, but Enoch (Henry Hopper) hasn’t exactly been normal for awhile. He takes a morbid interest in such proceedings… and as he finds out when a total stranger walks up to him at a memorial service and starts a conversation, he’s not the only one. Annabelle (Mia Wasikowska) has the same hobby as he does, but she is better at it. She doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb and the mortician never seems to notice she is there.
At first, Enoch wants nothing to do with her – but then she manages to save him from being thrown out, and from that moment on they are fast friends. But as they become closer, and he shares with her more about his peculiar life, including his friendship with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot (Ryo Kase), a secret comes to light that will impact them both and force him to confront his past.
Movies all about death can be morbid but this one strangely is and isn’t… it is in a sense that it is about death; about those we leave behind, about lives fully and not-fully lived, about striving to make every moment count and not let the approach of death defeat you. It’s a touching film in that regard as well as an unusual one, with a pair of teenage protagonists that are beautiful in their eccentricities and delightful in the emotions they wrench out of the audience. One scene is guaranteed to draw unexpected tears and a lump in the throat, before we realize it is not as it appears and our gasp of remorse turns into a delighted laugh. It’s quirky… where else will we find a ghost donned as a pilot who likes to play Battleship? It asks us to believe he is there – and believe we do, even though at times we doubt.
There is life after death, the film promises – only for them, it isn’t what I as a Christian believe: that life after death can be beautiful. I lost two people in the last year to heaven and the glory of God, and my tears toward the end of this film were shed as much out of happiness for them as sorrow that there is no such eternal hope for these characters. In fact, in one embittered rant, Enoch denies that life after death even exists; he has experienced it for a moment and there was only endless blackness. Fortunately, the film doesn’t leave us to dwell on this, for the presence of the Japanese ghost suggests that death does not have to be a horrible thing, but can be beautiful in the lives that it leaves behind, in the vibrancy of our legacies, in a table overflowing with all the wonderful things they loved to eat, because as Annabelle says, people always eat when they are upset.
A little-known film backed by some surprising sources (including Bryce Dallas Howard as a producer), the film does not abuse its PG13 rating and except for one or two moral hiccups is acceptable for audiences prepared to deal with its emotional themes (among them, recovering from grief and living and dying with cancer). It is implied that Enoch and Annabelle sleep with one another, but we only see some tender kissing before the scene transitions to the next morning. One use of GD and a few uses of s**t intrude on the dialogue. The pair of them discusses funerals and death in-depth and even sit for awhile in the morgue, basking in the “gloriousness” of it. We see a character suffer from a seizure that places them in a hospital.
Romances are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, but few of them make you think as much as this one will. It’s surprisingly light and delightful at times even in spite of its heavy subject matter, owing in some large part to a clever script and beautiful performances. It is heartfelt and earnest and is a film I didn’t mind seeing once, but because it has such a weeper of a conclusion, I probably will not view it again.