Tom Jokinen ponders an afterlife of neither bliss nor torment, but unrelenting banality:
The 2004 French film Les Revenants (translated as They Came Back and since spun off into a Sundance TV series) imagines a world in which the dead neither ascend to heaven nor disappear to a black oblivion, but merely, as the title says, come back. To pick up where they left off. One day they emerge on the streets of a small French town in the same business-casual attire and over-coiffed funeral-home hairdos in which they were buried, seeming no worse for the wear. But they’ve changed. Emotionally flat and unreachable, it’s as if they’ve emerged from an unsatisfying, dreamless sleep and are caught in some vague, post-traumatic affective disorder which seems reasonable. Their attempts to re-integrate into society are fraught. Their families don’t know what to do with them. From here the director and co-writer Robin Campillo takes the ball and doesn’t so much run with it as amble into dark corners: this is a very quiet, very European zombie film.
For one thing, the return of the dead presents a social problem without precedent.
Do they get their old jobs back, given that they’re just not as bright or engaged as they used to be? Committees are struck, town meetings are held. Some families have moved on, spouses have remarried, so where will the dead sleep? Refugee-style facilities are considered. What about social programs? Are the dead still eligible for unclaimed pension benefits? Implications mount.
He goes on to compare the film to the “postmortem rom-com” Truly, Madly, Deeply:
[B]oth films have [a] thread in common: they present death as something less than spectacular, not unlike certain after-Modernist views on life itself—one dull thing after another. There are no zithers. We wear the same clothes. Cold air still chills us, we suffer from hangovers. It is a view of death for those who have outgrown grand narratives, where the afterlife is just more of the same. It is neither alluring nor transcendent: we will not come back as a flower or a frog or a potato, all of which at least promise a change of scenery. These films contemplate the plodding, uneventful banality of death: we’ve lost the comfort of the story with a happy ending.
(Video: Scenes from Les Revenants)