The 1989 film, Without Reservation, opens with a scene that should strike horror in the hearts of many viewers.
A high school basketball teams attempts to rap. Each member of the team takes a verse, introducing themselves and struggling to come up with an appropriate rhyme to go along with their name. I suppose that, as far as rapping goes, they’re about as skilled as you would expect any group of white, upper middle class suburban teenagers to be. This scene goes on forever and, oddly enough, it doesn’t really have much to do with anything else that happens in the film. One gets the feeling that it was only added to pad out the film’s 24-minute runtime. Perhaps it was added to let the viewers know that the filmmakers weren’t stodgy old men whose knowledge of music ended with Sinatra. No, the filmmakers were people who understood that sometimes teenagers enjoyed rap music. They were down with the youth.
(Actually, as much as I’m making fun of the scene, it may be one of the more realistic pats of Without Reservation. I went to an upper middle class high school in the suburbs. The majority of my classmates were dorky white kids who thought they could rap. Most of them were pretty bad but they were still better than the members of this film’s basketball team)
Anyway, once the rapping’s done, it’s time for six teenagers to climb into a car, drive too fast, and up getting hit by a truck. Four of the teens suddenly find themselves apparently floating in space in the remains of their car. They’re all dead and now, they’re waiting to find out where they’re going to go. Do they have a reservation in Heaven or not? Fortunately, there’s a man wearing a tuxedo (with a red bow-tie) who is working the heavenly registration desk. He has a big, bulky, old school computer. He asks for names and when he get them, he checks to see if they have a reservation. He ends up telling the majority of people to step to the left, which is a polite way of saying, “Welcome to eternal damnation.”
Needless to say no one in the car has a reservation. They all wish they could get one but it’s too late because they’re dead now. We watch as they’re told to step to the left. One of them ends up getting dragged over to a freight elevator and descends to the underworld. It’s actually an oddly effective image. If nothing else, the film does do a good job of creating an atmosphere of impending doom. And yet, it’s hard not to feel that, like so many similar films, the main goal here is to frighten people into compliance as opposed to making a case for one belief system or another. The emphasis is on punishment and pain and the film almost seems to encourage viewers to look down on those who don’t have reservations. Yes, the film seems to be saying, he may be able to rap but he’s still not in the system. Aren’t you glad that you’re not as dumb of Bill?
Anyway, Without Reservation is crudely effective, even if the ultimate message appears to be that the afterlife is a tacky resort with an out-dated computer system.