Making the Grades
Do you believe there is a heaven? If you do, what do you expect to find there?
During Eddie's (Jon Voight) last hour, such thoughts are far from his mind. Unaware his time is so short (as most of us are), he fills his final sixty minutes doing what he has always done - inspecting and fixing the rides at Ruby Pier, a seaside amusement park. But when a cable suddenly snaps, threatening to plummet a cart full of people to the ground, the aging maintenance man hobbles to the scene as quickly as he can. Once there he discovers the situation is even worse than he thought. Huddled against a support post, directly in the path of the falling metal conveyance, is a young child. Instinctively he rushes into harm's way, hoping to save the little girl...
That is Eddie's last recollection of mortality. When he becomes aware of his surroundings again, it is only to discover he is in Heaven. Unfortunately, it looks an awful lot like Ruby Pier - a place Eddie often felt was hell on earth. Completely confused and extremely disappointed he seeks wisdom from the only other soul inhabiting the ethereal fair grounds; a sideshow freak Eddie remembers from his childhood.
The Blue Man (Jeff Daniels) patiently explains he is one of five people Eddie will meet in heaven. Each of them was part of his life for a reason, and each has something to share with him to illuminate his understanding.
So they come, from the battlefield of the Second World War to a cable car cafe, from a bustling wedding celebration to a solitary mountain stream. No matter how obscure the connection between himself and his guide may appear, the significance of their contribution to his biography starts to become clear as they unfold their tale. Piece by piece, they fill in the missing parts of the puzzle of his life, answering many of Eddie's unresolved questions.
Based on Mitch Albom's best selling book, this made-for-TV-movie is punctuated by wonderful performances. Beautifully constructed, it uses a series of flashbacks to examine every inch of Eddie's existence, helping the audience learn all about this man, his dreams and his disappointments. To keep the storylines distinct, a variety of photography styles are employed, such as a black-and-white print look for time past, warm orange tone for Heaven, and cold blue hues for present day Earth.
For young viewers, Eddie's painful memories do present some content concerns. These include depictions of war violence, bloody injuries, and the wounds of a burn victim. There are also portrayals of an abusive alcoholic, a drunken man who makes unwanted advances on a woman, main characters who smoke, as well as terms of deity used as expletives and a couple of mild and moderate profanities.
However, for anyone old enough to have wondered about the purpose of life, Five People You Meet in Heaven will provide great solace. Even though it is a fictional story, the vision it presents of the hereafter helps put into perspective the importance of the little things we do each day, the narrowness of our understanding that sometimes makes it impossible for us to judge others fairly, and the need we have to be understood and forgiven by those we may have intentionally or inadvertently hurt.
What impresses me most is the relevance of the lessons Eddie learns. If we could just apply some of these shared insights to our own lives, we might find a little bit more Heaven here on Earth.