Pull up a cloud and take a ride through Heaven. Created and directed by the multi-talented Diane Keaton (Annie Hall, Baby Boom), "Heaven" takes a wonderfully lighthearted look a the Great Beyond. Keaton intersperses outrag... more »eous interviews with extraordinary film footage from such European and American film classics as "Metropolis," "Green Pastures" and "Stairway to Heaven." It is truly the ultimate coming attraction!« less
"When Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert first reviewed this film they agreed that "It IS a documentary -- but about WHAT"? Keaton's delicious film is really a satire couched in the form of a mock-survey on the images we have OF heaven, the sources broadly divided among Hollywood movie images, "Bible Belt" America fundamentalism (then-popular local Protestant fundamentalist Reverend Hymers gets to put his two cents in the opinion plate), along with assorted New Age perspectives and at least one chillingly dogmatic and persuasive atheist -- Diane Keaton's mother (who died shortly after the film was made, but not before having the (her) last word on the subject). For all of its wonderful simplicity, this film has aroused a lot of controversy, both as to its quality and success as a film, and to its subject matter. There are two very tempting and very wrong ways to approach this film, and a third I will mention last. The first is as a completely objective, thorough, and -- heaven help us -- "authoritative" documentary, even if only a documentary of American lay attitudes on the subject. Keaton does not appear onscreen (is this a poke at our God-like images of poll-takers -- and movie directors?) nor is her voice heard (her prompt-questions, arranged by subject, e.g. "Is There Sex After Death?", are edited out), but her presence is felt; she draws her material from two primary sources: public opinion, and popular media imagery. This should clue the viewer into the non-literalness of her "documentary" format. Michael Moore (accepting his Oscar for "Bowling for Columbine") claimed that documentary film-makers are objective truth tellers -- a shameful lie at best; documentary film-makers are essayists, presenting facts that support the argument for a particular viewpoint. What Keaton's own opinion is of the Here-and-Now's view of the Hereafter is the puzzle the viewer is invited to tackle. This is why she selects, not experts, or well-reasoned or "balanced" viewpoints, but the viewpoints contained in our lore of heaven. The films and TV images are a part of our shared lore, and the opinion of the man-on-the-street is not that of the average man on the street, but the average resident of or visitor to Southern California (what the film was shot), the sort of resident or visitor or who would willingly consent to sit in an interview room resembling a set from "Queen of Outer Space" and reveal one's deepest hopes, shallowest ideas, greatest fears, or simply one's long-fallow right-brain opinings on a subject that in daily life most everybody does have an opinion of, but somehow never gets asked about. Serious anthropological analysts of public opinion and experts seeking information about heaven (?!) will go nuts sorting out the "facts" here. Rather than walk away informed, the viewer is provoked by Keaton into asking his or her own serious questions. The other wrong approach is to not take the subject matter, or Keaton's selection of images (including scenes from "Buck Rogers" and "Stairway to Heaven"), or her sociological guinea pigs' responses, seriously *enough*. The film itself IS a laugh riot, make no mistake. Keaton has not abandoned her comic roots for a second. Keaton intersperses her individual interviews of the pedestrians along Hollywood Boulevard with clips from famous, infamous and long-forgotten films on the subject, as well as excerpts from religious TV shows presenting "expert" views for TV congregationalists. But underlying this superbly edited collection of Hollywood, religious, fringe and personal spiritual kitsch is a subtle but profound sense of earnest curiosity and longing coupled with a level of sincerity one rarely finds in public discourse, much less films (even documentaries) these days. The film ends with the last and longest of a set of comments made by Keaton's mother: a rebuttal to all of the fantasy images preceding this final moment, a dour, atheistic and utterly unabashed perspective on heaven worthy of Mark Twain or Ambrose Bierce. Mother Keaton knew she was dying when she gave her interview, and this "last word" sets the viewer up straight. Eighty minutes of animated, comical "evidence" and "argument" on a subject no one really knows anything about strikes the viewer as absurd. But while the images that we share of "heaven" have been drawn from (and determined -- even co-opted) by Hollywood, religious fundamentalist media organizations and various alternative "fringe" groups, Mother Keaton's comments pull us back from the familiar, hokey images to the object they purport to represent: the concept behind and the significance of Heaven itself, not just as a place and time in human existence (or not), but as a benchmark for our own progress, our own development, our own achievement and meaning in this Earthly life. Keaton's negative comments regarding heaven, as personal and as opinionated as any of the preceding views presented, is not as easily dismissed. They prompt the most serious of questions: What do our lives, our successes and failures, our actions and inactions, our joys and sufferings, the very meaning of our lives, add up to? Believers and non-believers alike, as they leave the theater (or rewind the videotape) are left hanging, and thinking about what the end (the aim, purpose, goal, etc.) of humanity in general and each of us personally IS. Mother Keaton's final statement of skepticism dispels the giddy, shallow feeling- superior- and- above- it- all hilarity audiences feel throughout the film. We are left at the end with aching, unanswered, philosophical -- but by no means academic -- questions to ponder, central to our being: If the comic images of heaven we have been watching all this time are false, then what IS the truth? If Mother Keaton's cynicism is too sour and bleak to accept -- then what do we, or should we, or can we, believe? What is it all for? Why are we here? What becomes of us?"
One of best, funniest, weirdest films on religion ever made.
Elmer Sigmon | 12/31/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Keaton's first directed film is one of the funniest, weirdest and best films on religion that I have ever seen, and I've seen a lot of 'em. Some of the folks interviewed are downright scary, others naive & silly, but all of them seem sincere. Highlight of the film is an argument between an atheist punk teen and a longhaired Jesus freak who talks about cows being God's lawnmowers (thus don't eat the lawnmowers). Several of the old film clips woven throughout are forever in my head, especially the deranged voice of a preacher screeching "ARE YOU AFRAID TO DIE?" yells over footage of buildings collapsing, dams bursting, car wrecks, etc.For me, this film is better than any of Woody Allen's movies, except for "Sleeper" which is even crazier. This film itself is a sleeper that will likely get a lot more attention years down the road. The fact that Keaton directed it makes the viewing all the weirder. In America's culture of total fear of everything it's a film worth watching.If you have a sense of irony, can appreciate the juxtaposition of heartfelt interviews with bizzare religious film footage, and can "get" this level of hilarious film making, this one's for you. If you lack these critical viewing skills please give your copy of this film to someone who does, it's a brilliant, must-see movie!"
Stunning. Beautiful. Moving. Asks: what is Hollywood abo
The Squabbler | Portland, OR, USA | 12/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I wish I had the time right now to do justice to this film. Diane Keaton is a genius and her film describes Hollywood's apprehensions of heaven better than anything else before or since. We witness various Hollywood film and television discussions and depictions of heaven. We meet and listen to a variety of opinions on heaven by folks who live in or near Hollywood. ... The result is astounding. Not only hilarious, this film is deeply moving. It asks questions about heaven of its subjects, whose answers comprise the bulk of the film. And it leaves each of us with those same questions. ... How will yours compare to those you've been fed by media machines? ... This is a film that, contrary to some of the reviews below, deserves multiple viewings."
A head of its time! Diane Keaton is surprisingly cool!
Carl Market | Hollywood, CA United States | 02/26/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The subject sounded cool, but I was hesitant with someone as mainstream as Diane Keaton directing. Wow, this blew me away! If you're hardcore religious and can't laugh at yourself you may have problems with this. But to hear the variety of people interviewed interpreting their view of what heaven is, as well as death and other related, hard to discuss topics is hilarious and sometimes touching. I can't believe the soundtrack Diane used, it's like a watered down version of old Ministry/Skinny Puppy. I had know idea Diane was so hip, specially when you consider the year this was made, which I believe was 1987. If you like stuff like the Awful Truth or Errol Morris docs, you definitely should check this out."
Oddly enough, a rather moving film
David S. Whitman | Minneapolis, MN | 02/02/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you're a lousy listener, you definitely won't dig this film, because Keaton's technique is to simply turn on the camera and let people talk about...Heaven. What it's like, who gets to go there and so on.But if you think it's interesting to hear real people say what they really, truly think about something as important as the afterlife, you'll find this movie fascinating. I did.Can you imagine? People talking with absolute certainty about a place they've never been. Their desire, their hope, or more accurately their FAITH that they are absolutely correct in their visions of Heaven is almost palpableNo matter what you believe Heaven is like, it's wonderful to see how wildly that varies from somebody else's idea of what it will be like. A place full of diamonds and jewels...a place of absolute goodness...a place of impartial justice.Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it's scary. Sometimes it's just weird.In the end, I found this film to be very moving. Because after watching dozens of people talk confidently about Heaven, I realized that while they all had different ideas, all of their visions boiled down to one thing: Heaven will primarily consist of those things that are profoundly missing from their own lives, be it material comfort, social justice or, usually, unconditional love.It made me realize that what we mainly want to have, is Heaven on Earth."