I watched the film Flatliners yesterday, because this was apparently an event many years overdue in my life. It was solid, silly 90s fun, with Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, a Baldwin of some sort, Julia Roberts, and that guy from that thing. It made something pretty obvious occur to me.
We, as a species, really don’t seem to like ghosts.
I mean, there aren’t many ways in which the dead can rise and find our approval, but we always assume the worst of ghosts. So much of the time, the unfinished business which provides the only reason they’re sticking around in this world is something vengeful, something to satisfy their anger and hatred.
Among the world’s most haunted places are said to be a number of ghosts, who generally met some bloody end, and have been loitering for centuries. Everybody who could ever have wronged these individuals in life is long dead; any vendetta or feud, long since irrelevant. There’s nothing left for them to achieve here, no wrong to right, no justice to be had. But still we suppose they stay, angry and miserable and trapped.
And since, y’know, ghosts don’t exist, this can’t reflect badly on them. Only on us.
Apparently, lust for revenge is one of the strongest reasons for us not to want death to be the end of us. When our bodies give in, we don’t want to go, mostly because we haven’t yet had a chance to get back at some bastard who pissed us off. We loves us some retribution, and we assume most dead people do too, even after you might think they’d have been able to leave all worldly concerns behind.
Not every restless soul is like this, but they so rarely stick around here if they’re actually happy. They tend to move on to some higher ethereal plane, only communicating with us, in unreliable fragments of conversation, “from the other side”, through an assortment of con-men. They never seem to feel the need to stick around here to get anything done. The only thing ever worth clinging on to this world for is finishing up some brutal revenge.
What does this say about us, that these are the things we imagine we’ll be focused on for centuries once we’re dead? Is it just that it’s harder to tell a fun story if you imagine deceased spirits are capable of forgiveness and kindness, or are we preoccupied with all the wrong things?