Swedenborg on film

This autumn, one of the best-kept secrets in London is the Swedenborg Society’s film season ‘Images of the Afterlife in Cinema’. Every Friday until the middle of October, the Society will be screening a carefully chosen film with a connection to the unique work of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish mystic and theologian who believed himself to have travelled in Heaven and Hell and whose writings have informed many of our modern presuppositions about these realms. (We don’t understand much more than that, but if you’re after some detailed info then check out the excellent bio feature here).

We’re confident that all the cool kids will be making a weekly pilgrimage to the faintly spooky Swedenborg Hall to catch the full season. However, we know life can get in the way, so just in case you can’t make all the screenings we’ll be reviewing each film as they appear. Or, if you fancy picking and choosing which evenings you attend, read on for a featurette on everything that’s coming up between now and the 15th October…

3rd September – Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Jacob’s Ladder follows a Vietnam veteran plunged into a nightmare world on his return from the war. Jacob is convinced he’s being pursued by demons that nobody else can see, and after a while even the most sceptical viewer will doubt that he is simply hallucinating. Is Jacob simply a mental wreck, or is his soul in danger? Tim Robbins gives a career-defining performance as a man on the edge of madness.

10th September – After Life (1998)
An original and touching look at the technicality of paradise, After Life is set in a way station which the dead visit before moving on to heaven. They must select a single memory from their past life into which they are then subsumed, spending eternity reliving whenever they were happiest. Featuring Japanese star ARATA in his first starring role, this is a film with a simple but nonetheless memorable message.

17th September – Stay (2005)
Starring Ewan McGregor in one of his less well-known performances, Stay sees him take on the role of a psychiatrist with a disturbed patient (Ryan Gosling) who is planning to kill himself on his twenty-first birthday. As time ticks away, the lines between reality and insanity are blurred until nobody – characters or audience – know what is real and what is fantasy.

24th September – Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)
When Zia (Patrick Fugit) kills himself, the last thing he expects is to reawaken in a bizarre afterlife reserved for suicides. It’s much like home, except for the distinctly trippy colour scheme and the fact that nobody can smile. A gentle coming-of-age comedy despite its subject matter, Wristcutters follows Zia in his surreal search for his dead girlfriend through the strange world in which he’s found himself.

October 1st – Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
A cult classic in its own right, in this sequel to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure Bill S Preston Esq. and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan return to the screen – only to be killed by evil robots sent from the future! Bill and Ted must escape Hell, outwit the Grim Reaper and persuade God to let them return to life, their band Wyld Stallyns and their outrageously smokin’ princess girlfriends.

October 8th – A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Starring David Niven and recently voted the second best British film of all time, A Matter of Life and Death is an enduring classic which wowed post-war audiences with its groundbreaking special effects. After a British airman is killed but a fog prevents him being escorted to heaven, he testifies before a celestial court in hope of being allowed to stay on earth with his sweetheart.

15th October – Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Arguably the most influential propaganda film of all time, Sergei Eisenstein’s seminal treatment of the real life uprising on the Potemkin was judged to be so seditious that it was banned in the UK until the last years of the Cold War. Hugely ambitious for its time, it pulls no punches in its (admittedly biased) depiction of the last gasps of the Tsarist regime. Look out for the iconic – though fictional – Odessa Steps sequence.

All the films start at 7pm start, although the first and last screenings have special treats attached – Jacob’s Ladder will be prefaced by a talk from noted author Nicholas Royle and composer/filmmaker Robert Robertson will discuss the connection between Battleship Potemkin and Swedenborg. Rock up at 6pm if you fancy coming to these too!

Everything’s free, and there will hopefully be some free booze sloshing around beforehand; there are only 100 seats available at each performance, though, so you’ll have to be quick if you want to join in – call the charming Nora Foster on 0207 405 7986 or email [email protected] to get involved. See you there!

About The Author