Film Review | Afterlife (1978)

Afterlife“, a 1978 short film by Ishu Patel, is a curious meditation on life after death, crafted exquisitely in an ever-morphing pastiche of figures, events and the warm colours of life: the blood-red ooze of birth, a searing intense orange of fire and sunlight, and the mellow yellow glow of nostalgia.

Opening with the pulsations of a single point in space, as though the dawn of a new beginning and a new experience, the film quickly morphs into the image of a man on his deathbed, at his dying breath: he witnesses his spectral self shift from his corporeal existence to a plane that is quite literally beyond his dimension—the film intertwines the seeming past of this man’s life with the life forces of the things around him, from fauna to flora. He is traversed in this make-shift space in a multitude of angles and ideas, defying the rigidity of his earthly composition and opening up the grandeur of what can only be interpreted as a realm that is truly spectacular and metaphysical.

Patel’s use of imagery which combines animal forms with human figures harkens back to the religious imagery of civilizations past, such as that of ancient Egyptian culture; such images evoke the power of nature and more so, the oneness and unity of humans and animals alike, in the abstract continuum that may represent the wholeness of the universe, devoid of any distinction between the various morphologies that populate life.

Closing with an egg, a symbol of birth, which morphs into a tunnel through which a humanoid figure dives, and finally repeating the same pinpoint and heartbeat that had begun the short film, Patel alludes to the possible cyclical nature of life — taking on both the spiritual concept of reincarnation and the empirically observable transitions of all living things.

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