Rated Rlanguage, subject matter
This much-talked-about film addresses a question most adults and many children have asked: Why would anyone want to be an undertaker/mortician/funeral director? The question reminds me of an unsolicited "answer" a friend of my youth gave to a similar question. Having spent three years or so in a boys reformatory, he said there's one main reason people desire to work in such institutions. His answer, based on his observation, was, "it's the sex." Not all staff members participated actively in the rampant sexplay and abuse that went on in the Oakdale, Pennsylvania, reform school in the 1950's, he said, but they all "got off" on it in one way or another.
That's the same answer Kissed gives about the undertaking profession. Sandra is shown growing up obsessed with death. Starting with dead birds, mice, and squirrels, she makes a religion and a fetish of it. The daughter of a florist, on a delivery to a mortuary where she knows an assistant has recently died, she urges the proprietor to let her take over the job. Soon she is graduating from running errands to studying embalming, and from kissing dead men to using them to relieve her sexual arousal. It turns out that her employer is also not in the business as a public service or for big bucks; his interest in dead bodies is also...well, morbid. And the building custodian, a simple man and a practicing Catholic, is probably not interested in handling the dead, but he also has a heightened curiosity about death and the dead. It is he, ironically, who confirms Sandra's intuition that the dead know about the attention they are getting.
Sandra refers to her carnal relations with corpses as "crossing over." She sees a great light every time she does it, she says, and everyone she does it with "is different." A med student at the university where she is studying embalming senses something different about her, gets to know her, and becomes her lover, eventually wanting to know every detail of what she experiences in loving the dead. He even wants to join in, though she refuses to allow it, believing it would get her fired.
Despite the prayers that attend her childhood funerals for animals, Sandra's view of death is at the opposite pole of the Christian view that death is swallowed up in the victory of resurrection. Though death is the ultimate (however you mean it) to those with no hope beyond the grave, it is merely a portal to new life to Christians. As Orthodox Christians will sing on Pascha next Sunday, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life." Whether the spirits of those recently departed this life "feel anything" or not when they are abused is an open question to me. But if they do, it could only be horror.
This is a short filmjust 78 minutes. Though I can't recommend it as any kind of entertainment, much less edification, it was, as Gene Siskel said, obviously made for a serious purpose. Though base, it is nowhere nearly as debauched as much that appears for purposes of entertainment in theaters and even on network television these days. If you have a need to know some of this material, whether for the study of fetishes, death and dying, or the realm of motion pictures, this may have educational value.
Photo © by the film's distributor
© 1997, Jon Kennedy