Just Like Heaven

Light fare for a waning summer

Just when I thought the western world had forgotten about Plato, along comes a romcom devoted to the purity of love divorced from the sensual. Just Like Heaven casts Reese Witherspoon as Elizabeth, a medical doctor put into coma by an accident. But her spirit haunts Mark Ruffalo's David, who has rented her old San Francisco apartment.

If Platonists believe in eternal realities rather than temporal, the mind rather than the body, ideal forms rather than imperfect ones, then this film supports those notions by showing two people falling in love without physical contact, given that one of them is a spirit. Both have suffered for love, he from loss of his wife to stroke, she from never having experienced love. In Heaven, they are able to earn each other's love and respect, not from physical contact but from daily verbal intercourse.

In the fashion of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, the ghost falls in love but can't do a thing about it. Yet, the belief that love will have its day pervades Heaven, moving characters to perform extraordinary feats to stop relatives from pulling the plug on the comatose body. Landscape architect David uses all of his creative skill to try to save Dr. Elizabeth, while we know the Platonist needs only love in its pure form to save.

Yes, it is a farfetched romantic comedy, but at least as entertaining as this year/s 40 Year old Virgin or Must Love Dogs. The scene where David tries exorcists and ghost busters to rid him of his guest is one of the best this year. The appearance of Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder as a stoner spiritual advisor is a treat.

Just Like Heaven is light fare for a waning summer--Witherspoon and Ruffalo make memorable lovers unencumbered by the realities of decay and disappointment. As James Joyce does at the end of "The Dead," Alexis Carrel describes the unity of the living and the dead: "Happily, society comprises not only the living but the dead, and the great dead still live in our midst. We can contemplate them and listen to them at will."