Thinking about Clint Eastwood's 31st feature, Hereafter [read my interview with himself, here], a mental montage of movie near-death experiences and afterlife vistas flashed before my eyes.
There are the tunnels of light of Resurrection (1980) and Hereafter, with Ellen Burstyn and Cecile De France respectively pulled back from the afterlife to finish their work among the living.
There's the heavenly tribunals of Cabin in the Sky, (1940), Stairway to Heaven (1946) and Defending Your Life (1991) -- respectively Churchly, Princely and Bureaucratic in design -- that will decide whether Eddie Anderson, David Niven and Albert Brooks deserve happy endings. (Like the heroes of Cabin and Stairway, the Warren Beatty character in Heaven Can Wait (1978) is in limbo between this world and the next (depicted as as place where beings walk on clouds).
There's the infernos, comic, tragic and tragicomic, in Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry (1997), Vincent Ward's What Dreams May Come (1998). and Goran Dukic's Wristcutters (2007). As Allen sees it, the levels of hell are kind of like Bloomingdales, but subterranean and art-directed by Hieronymus Bosch. As Ward tells it, the seven circles of hell are landscapes as imagined by a very melancholy Monet. And as Dukic suggests, hell is the California desert, where rusting service stations and creaky roadhouses punctuate an arid expanse.
And there's the Elysian Fields panoramas of Field of Dreams (1989) and Gladiator (2000). In the former, an Iowa baseball diamond cut into a corn field is the portal between this world and the next. In the latter, the title figure dies and his body levitates above the wheat fields of his native Spain.
Can you think of other movie depictions of near-death and afterlife? I've stayed away from ghost movies like Ghost and Ugetsu, and away from angel movies like It's a Wonderful Life and Wings of Desire, but you can make a case for them. Your favorites? Why?