1990 was a great year in film. It was the year of “Dances with Wolves,” “The Hunt For Red October” and my personal favorite, “GoodFellas.” It was also the year of a certain romantic comedy starring Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg called Ghost.
The film Ghost covers the foreboding subject that is our mortality; specifically asking: “what happens after we die.” Director Jerry Zucker, known for “First Knight” and “Ruthless People,” has given the most common depiction of the afterlife, but with several quirks in it. He depicts the heaven and hell we are all familiar with; heaven being a place of bright light and happiness and hell as a dark place of fire and evil.
The quirks involve when you can go to each of these places. I was under the impression that it was instantaneous; once you die you go to either heaven or hell. In “Ghost,” Patrick Swazye’s character (Sam Wheat) must avenge his murderers before he can be “released into the light.”
Told from the perspective of Manhattan yuppies (presumed by the size of their apartment and Swayze’s cushy Wall Street job) who clearly have no sign of money issues. Patrick Swayze (Sam) plays an investment broker on Wall Street, who is killed by a mugger, but instead of going to heaven, he remains in a limbo state where he decides to follow his girlfriend around.
His girlfriend (Molly), played by Demi Moore, is seen grieving and moping around; still picking up Sam’s dry cleaning and saving his old rolls of Rolaids. What Molly does not know is that Sam’s death was not a random act of violence, it was a planned hit by a contract killer.
In the beginning of the film we see Sam talking to his co-worker and best friend Carl,(Tony Goldwyn) saying that there is too much money in some of the investors accounts. We find out that Carl was really laundering money into those accounts and when Sam started to realize this, Carl had him killed.
After his death, Sam seeks help from the slightly fraudulent psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg) who is able to speak to the dead. When Brown confronts Molly, she doesn’t believe it. Sam even tells Brown (who tells Molly) the most intimate details about clothing Molly was wearing on specific vacations and different things they did together in the past. Molly is forced to believe that this spiritual communication is valid, but it takes some time for her to genuinely believe that Oda Mae is being truthful.
This really frustrated me. Her character is too rigid and inflexible. It takes her too long to believe Oda Mae. What does Molly even have to lose by believing her? To make her character even more ridiculous; instead of trusting Oda Mae (Sam’s medium), Molly falls for the villain, Carl, who acts as the shoulder to cry on and desperately throws himself at her.
In the remainder of the film, not only does Sam get a lesson on how to physically interact with the living, but he must find a way to reveal Carl’s secret to Molly (before she falls in love with him or even worse, is killed by him.)
Apart from being confused about Sam’s lack of an instant journey to heaven, I was also puzzled about his ability to interact with the physical world. In the beginning, Swayze would walk through everything but after a couple of ‘friendly’ lessons, he can suddenly do all these “horror movie tricks?” Even though the scare tactics were a bit weak, the film did manage to play with the emotions, specifically when Sam was able to possess Oda Mae’s body and use her presence to interact with Molly for the last time.
Although the film has a very overused plot and some terrible depictions of hellish demons, it is very memorable. I’m sure many of those who have seen it remember using the word ‘ditto’ or remember the pottery wheel scene playing Unchained Melody in the background.