Fiction is one of the most powerful methods of processing emotion— it can be hard to watch these types of movies when you’re grieving, though. Sometimes, you want to gather information and prepare yourself for the end-of-life experience. If that’s the case, we’ve collected a list of movies and documentaries about near-death experiences.
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As a culture, we’re fascinated with death. You might've heard accounts about mystical and out-of-body experiences, but none offer concrete proof. So, what can we do? Artists and filmmakers have tried to fill in the gaps with fictional and first-hand accounts. Here are their films that capture this best.
Best Near-Death Experience Movies
Movies are a great way to vicariously experience emotion through a character. These films help you prepare for, reflect on, or process out-of-body or scary experiences without putting yourself in harm’s way.
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A colorful animated film, Coco is one of the best children’s films. It deals with death and the afterlife in a positive manner. The characters in the film make warm connections with loved ones and learn death is nothing to be afraid of.
The focus on the family and warmth makes this a tender film for all ages to enjoy.
2. My Sister’s Keeper
Terminal illness changes everything. It can change an individual, their family, and their choices. Making the right decisions under such intense pressure is hard to do. In My Sister's Keeper, that’s also the case. Parents choose to have another baby, but for a complicated reason.
They don’t want another child, but they need a bone marrow donor for their daughter. This heart-wrenching movie takes a look at the impact of that decision.
3. Tuesdays With Morrie
As a culture, we want movies about dying people to be inspiring. Heroic, even. This does a disservice to dying people. They shouldn’t have to be inspirational martyrs. Tuesdays With Morrie focuses on the friendship between a student and his mentor.
His professor, Morrie Schwartz, is dying from ALS. Their relationship is realistic without being cliche or too sweet.
4. It’s a Wonderful Life
It's a Wonderful Life is a feel-good holiday classic. Even though it’s a very old movie, it’s still brought out around the holidays for family time. Because it takes place during the holidays, it’s easy to forget or ignore the deeper desperation exemplified in this film.
The protagonist is in a deep depression because he feels like his life means nothing. It takes a visit from an angel for him to discover that his life, and everyone else’s, has altered the world for the better.
5. A Ghost Story
Our society is obsessed with ghosts. We tell ghost stories around the campfire. We bring out ghost decor for Halloween. This indie film, A Ghost Story, focuses on how ghosts are haunted, too.
A car crash kills the protagonist, and he turns into a ghost. He’s unable to communicate with his partner. This leads to deep musings about isolation, the afterlife, and who we leave behind.
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Best Near-Death Experience Documentaries
Documentaries may touch a more personal chord with you. Instead of fiction, they rely on real-life experiences and real suffering. These real-life experiences may help you make or come to terms with your own end-of-life decisions.
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Palliative care is a crucial service for those in pain from chronic illnesses. Documentary Griefwalker trails Stephen Jenkinson as he works with palliative care.
He interacts with knowledgeable, empathetic teams that care for patients around the clock. Jenkinson also provides counsel for families going through a slow, eventual grieving process. This documentary stands out for its observations on dying and pain.
7. The Nurse with the Purple Hair
Hospices and end-of-life care are delicate topics to deal with. The Nurse with the Purple Hair has a heartwarming take on it.
With a focus on acceptance of death as something that isn’t negative, it may help you through your grief.
8. The Day I Died
This 2002 documentary details unexplainable happenings after someone is dead. In that gap between legal death and resuscitation, people have reported strange experiences.
One story in particular features a woman who had an intense out-of-body experience. She detailed everything that happened in the operating room. Yet at the time, her eyes were closed and she had no registered brain activity.
9. How to Die in Oregon
For most people, death is inevitable. It isn’t a choice. That’s not the case in Oregon, which is a state that allows physician-assisted suicide. How to Die in Oregon follows people who have chosen to pursue this option in their last days. It’s far from sensationalist.
It’s a collection of stories told with quiet strength and empathy. Each subject is treated with compassion. This documentary is a guaranteed tear-jerker.
10. The Tibetan Book of the Dead
Have you ever wanted to explore other options that exist outside of a Western worldview? What if you’re not interested in Christian end-of-life-planning options? Marrying the spiritual and the practical is something that this documentary does well. It examines Buddhist teachings on death and their impact.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead focuses on the history of these teachings. It also covers how contemporary times have shaped them. Afterward, it asks how Buddhist tenets could impact how the West cares for their old.
11. The Undertaking
Death is often scary because it’s shrouded in mystery. What happens to your body after you die?
This documentary delves deep into the process from a funeral director's perspective. While it focuses on mortality, this is a factual account of post-death procedures.
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12. A Certain Kind of Death
A Certain Kind of Death is not for those with weak stomachs. It follows morgue employees as they dissect bodies. It also answers a few questions.
What happens when a dead person has no family or friends to claim them? When this happens, who arranges their funeral or cremation? This documentary answers these questions and many more.
13. Life After Life
Are you worried about what happens after death? It’s impossible to tell specifics of what occurs after you’ve died. And it’s notoriously hard to ask those who have gone before. Though there are many studies on post-death experiences.
After legal death, many people report odd experiences before resuscitation. Life After Death is a positive collection of these experiences and stories.
What's death like from a physician’s point-of-view? Depending on the specifics of their practice, they see many people die daily. This gives them a unique perspective on end-of-life decisions. Rather than focusing on the family’s perspective, this film focuses on communication.
What is it like for medical personnel to communicate end-of-life decisions? What is it like for them to communicate with families? This documentary takes an in-depth look at the answers to all these questions.
15. Defining Hope
How do you define what a “good end” looks like? Many people focus on a painless death if they have the choice. Others focus on a quick death.
It’s different for everyone, which makes the end-of-life industry so multifaceted today. This recent documentary, Defining Hope, focuses on empowerment and individuality. Its strong messages may be what you need.
Using Films to Understand Life After Death
Fiction and documentaries are great mediums to process your own emotions. They can help you develop confidence in what you're feeling. If you’re trying to deal with the death of a loved one, films can provide solidarity in this experience. Achieving this closure is important, and these films can help.