**Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers for Ghostbusters: Afterlife.**
Although there have been four Ghostbusters movies (the 2016 one was kind of an alternate universe), Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a direct continuation from Ghostbusters II. There are many important layers in Afterlife, so this won’t be a review but instead an exploration on how the film depicts what we want to believe about reconciliation and eternal life. Consequently, we’ll look at major plot details, so if you’re cool with spoilers alongside slimers, let’s grab our proton packs and jump in the proverbial hearse!
Layers of Emulsion: Deeper Meanings
Ghostbusters: Afterlife opens by following two kids moving to Oklahoma to settle their recently deceased grandfather’s affairs. The delayed revelation that these are Egon Spengler’s grandkids is fun. And director Jason Reitman is already famous for his “show, don’t tell” expertise, so it’s not surprising that he subtly hints at the roles the Spengler grandkids will play on the future team. We’re introduced to granddaughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) ripping apart an electrical outlet trying to increase the output for her science experiments. And once they depart for the deceased Spengler’s homestead, we briefly see grandson Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) fixing the engine to their broken-down car.
So it is natural that Phoebe would get Egon’s lab up and running and that Trevor would find and repair the famous Ghostbusters hearse. Their first adventure blazing around town is fun, but it also gains them proficiency (not the experience Trevor had in mind for his job application) in dealing with the dead. This lands them in jail, which gives Phoebe the chance to contact Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd). So when the Gozer hits the fan, all the metaphorical and literal chess pieces are in place.
But the climax of the movie was so much more than a fictional good overcoming evil. It was a real-world reconciliation. The Netflix show The Movies That Made Us devotes an episode (Season 1, Episode 3) to the original Ghostbusters. We are told Harold Ramis and Bill Murray had a falling out. But in 2014, when Ramis was on his deathbed, Murray visited and they reconciled. There is some closure for the viewer, but it left me wondering about the distance Ramis had for all those years and the pain it brought to everyone involved.
So when Ramis was brought to “life,” oddly as a ghost, it meant so much more to the real world. I sat in the theater thinking, I bet Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Ivan Reitman (the original film’s director and the producer of Afterlife) agreed to do this just to see Harold Ramis one last time and say goodbye. And then I visualized Bill Murray watching that scene in the future, making peace with his friend. When I mentioned this to my wife she said, “Yeah, that’s why I was crying.”
The older we get, the more ghosts we have—those relationships we wish we reconciled. So, the Ghostbusters family had a budget to make their friend (“out of what,” Phoebe would hilariously ask here) with impressive CGI. But what about that afterlife part?
Afterlife: Half-Life of Eternal Life
The Ghostbusters either trap spirits or send them to hell. But clearly, that’s not a fitting end for friend and colleague Egon Spengler. For the Ghostbuster team, having Egon’s spirit dematerialize gently into heaven was a way to truly say goodbye. For the crew and audience alike, it was a way to appreciatively release Harold Ramis into the afterlife. While preserving his memory one last time on film, Harold Ramis found life beyond the grave. But long before Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan wrote this screenplay, writers and thinkers have asked, “Is there an afterlife?”
I was a little frustrated that Afterlife showed very little of an afterlife. Then I realized my Judeo-Christianity was showing. The whole point of Ghostbusters is that, for some people, life continues on earth even after death.
But when I thought about it, the Bible doesn’t give us a lot of details on heaven. We know Jesus refers to it as paradise (Luke 23), and we know that one day, in the New Heaven and New Earth there won’t be any crying (Revelation 21:4) —stuff like that, but fewer concrete details. The apostle Paul’s point about there not being any human words to describe it may be one limiting factor. That’s where faith comes in. God has given some descriptions and explanations of life after death but many of us are awaiting a place and time we don’t know a lot about.
In my life’s journey I’ve searched and found the Bible to be true and the eternity Jesus spoke of to be within reach. We love fantasy and good storytelling because they stir our imagination and give us something truthful (even if misdirected) to satisfy a deep-seated need in the supernatural. So maybe the more important question is: How do we get to the afterlife?
When I think about eternal life and how to be assured we’ll go to heaven, I think of Jesus’s death on the cross. Having done nothing wrong, Jesus paid the price for our crimes (literal and ethical). And next to him was a condemned thief who said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42, NKJV).
There are two important words here: “Lord” and “kingdom.” “Lord” meant “boss,” like a respectful acknowledgment that whatever Jesus instructed him to say or do, the thief would obey. And “kingdom” means God’s will being done on earth. Even if you’re a Christian and feel like you’ve heard this all before, I highly recommend John Mark Comer’s series on defining the gospel as the kingdom of God on earth.
Jesus responded, “Assuredly . . . today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus’s “assurance” was personal to the man (“you”) that Jesus was both going to heaven and that the man could enter with him. There is an even greater assurance for us from this story. The thief’s mindset had changed, making Jesus his respected boss, even though the thief couldn’t do good deeds or get baptized. So, salvation doesn’t hinge on good works, which we fall short of; it’s about living a life where Jesus is our boss. But Jesus dying wasn’t enough; anyone can promise the afterlife, then die. Jesus rose from the dead, proving he was God and had power over death. This is also our assurance that if Jesus had the power to bring himself back to life, he will do it for us as well.
I’m not sure what Jason Reitman or the other creatives think about Jesus or the biblical heaven, but Afterlife certainly brings up some interesting visuals on hell, demonic entities, and what it looks like when our spirits leave this plane of existence. So, if Egon Spengler and his doppelganger, Harold Ramis, have been reconciled and ushered into the afterlife, are future ghostly tales still in the cards (preferably marked by Venkman)?
Haven’t Given Up the Ghost
I think Ghostbusters: Afterlife was the perfect reboot. It checked all the boxes (official and intangible) but it also provided reconciliation…and a chance to spend a little more time with a friend. Second chances for closure and to say goodbye don’t happen often. If we have a Harold Ramis in our life, someone who has drifted away, we should seriously consider putting those differences aside and reconcile—tomorrow is promised to no one. And in the same way fictional Egon was remembered and released to the afterlife, we should ask Jesus, as the thief requested, “Lord, remember me in Your kingdom.”