Heaven Can Wait (1978) Directed by Warren Beatty & Buck Henry
Ok, yes, there is a Warren Beatty fixation in our house. And a Julie Christie obsession too. Heaven Can Wait is a double-fix for desperate addicts. Compared to the true greatness which these actors are capable of creating, this film isn't strong, but it is heartfelt in a fluffy comforting way.
The 1980's was just around the corner when Heaven Can Wait was made. The hair, the training outfits, cars, and the ways of the nouveau riche all scream with terrible will to consume and celebrate the shades of brown. But I have no interest in American football (it looks like idiots bumping into each other for no reason and throwing a weird ball in frustrated desperation). I have no interest in rich men in polo outfits (they just look like idiots). In fact, I should not be interested in the characters of this film at all. But before the characters there is the thematic content: death.
Death is endlessly interesting in its obvious all-expanding and all-devouring crude manner. In Heaven Can Wait death is broken down into a journey of reason. There is a possibility of angelic error, of being taken away too soon. Luckily, humans are essentially souls who can therefore be put into someone else's body after they have died. According to this view there is a master plan, there is an expiration date hovering above our heads and, yes, there is heavenly justice. For romantic purposes: the soul shines through the eyes; recognizable even in a different body.
I am not being sarcastic when I say that I want to believe that death really is fair like this. And that we all live for the duration of time that is celestially picked for us. I want to believe in faith because then I do not have to feel so insignificant and helpless. Then my view of the planet would not have to be a perspective on the biggest injustice ever.
Thank you Warren for the moments of simple hopefulness and lightness. I don't even mind it that your vanity compromises the viewer's chance to really experience what it feels like to suddenly be looking at a different person but imagine that it is your soul still inside. Wouldn't we all be rather looking at Warren than some no-name playing the rich guy in his polo suit?
The idea that there are guardian angels looking over us has been used in cinema on various occasions. Most notably in Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life and in Powell & Pressburger's A Matter Of Life & Death. Heaven Can Wait is already a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan from 1941. I've watched Heaven Can Wait quite a few times over the years, and I think it's an underrated picture. It always makes me wonder why the angels looking after us don't get involved in day to day life, why only when it's a matter of death? Maybe I need to start believing in god.
As it turn's out Heaven Can Wait is still a top class comedy. There are fine performances from James Mason and Jack Warden, and some moments of gravitas between the smart ass humor. It's the dying days of New Hollywood, but the aesthetics and attitude of that movement still shine through Heaven Can Wait. The final exchange between Beatty and Christie is full of suspense, mystery and chemistry. It's a wonderful cinema moment. The rest of the film doesn't live up to that feeling, but it's a fun ride getting there none the less.