Reincarnation, karma and the afterlife are good topics and themes for fictional literature and they surely have found a way to influence even the film industry all over the world. Not just in India and other countries with eastern religions, Hollywood boasts of box-office and Academy Award winning films about reincarnation and other related concepts.
Probably, the most reincarnation-related Hollywood film is Academy Award winning What Dreams May Come, but there are of course, more films which we may have already seen that has themes which we can associate to reincarnation and other similar concepts.
A notable Hollywood film (although comedic and light) which discussed reincarnation is Chances Are. Released back in 1989, the film is a romantic Comedy written by Perry and Randy Howze and directed by Emile Ardolino. The film centers on a man who dies in a car accident but returns to Earth via reincarnation as a new man altogether, immediately after escaping what the film presents as heaven. The film stars Hollywood actors such as Robert Downey Jr. as the main protagonist and Mary Stuart Masterson among other stars.
Louie Jeffries, the protagonist dies in 1964 thanks to a terrible automobile accident but manages to slip by heaven and gets reborn. After twenty or more years later, his widow Corinne misses him and raises their only daughter Miranda with the help of their good friend Phillip. While Miranda was studying at Yale she meets Alex Finch – her father’s reincarnation and the two becomes romantically involved. Louis, now Alex feels an emotional attachment to Miranda since they were father and daughter in Louis past life but the connection is now rekindled romantically since his memories were lost in the process of reincarnation.
The movie shows that a soul will be reborn into a new body and will continuously exist even if the physical body dies. There is also a semblance to many discussions of reincarnation where it is believed that a person who is close to someone (whether by family, intimate relationships or friends) in this life will remain close in the next life.
And yet another significant film made with reincarnation notions entrenched in it is 1991 comedy-fantasy movie Defending Your Life. This film is about a man who must justify his lifelong fears and insecurities after he dies and arrives in what appears to be the afterlife. Written, directed by, and starred by Albert Brooks, this movie has an all-star cast composed of Meryl Streep, Rip Torn and even Lee Grant.
Both movies discuss these eastern beliefs in a somewhat light manner and although both movies are directly comedic Chances Are and Defending Your Life present elements of drama and reference to reincarnation as explanations of some incredible phenomenon in our lives.
Brooks presented the idea of being judged in a whimsical afterlife in this movie that follows the life and afterlife of Daniel Miller. Daniel and the rest of the recently-dead people of the Earth undergo their judgment processes in places like all-you-can-eat restaurants to bowling alleys and comedy clubs.
And again, although the reference to reincarnation is light and comedic its allusion to it is still obvious and in a way it promotes the teachings of those eastern religions. In those teachings, we choose our after life and our heaven and hell. That we can still go back to life in another human being or another creature to redeem ourselves and to reach our own version of heaven.