AFI Docs Review: “We Will Live Again”

This 12-minute short explores the people willing to invest in the hope of life after death.

By: Melissa Romero

The somewhat optimistic premise of an afterlife—featuring the pearly gates of heaven for some, the fiery depths of hell for others—is typically reserved only for the religious. But there are also some 100-or-so people tucked away in a Michigan laboratory who believe in the phrase, “Heaven can wait.”

Directors Myles Kane and Josh Koury’s We Will Live Again feels chilling in more ways than one, opening with a lingering shot of a corpse’s frozen foot. In just 12 minutes and four seconds, Kane and Koury introduce us to the world of cryonics, a technique with the primary goal of extending the life of the dead—all with the hope that science catches up at some point to revive them.

“Nothing is for sure, but you have a chance. I think it’s a good chance,” says the hopeful and aging Robert Ettinger, founder of the Cryonics Institute in Clinton Township. Ettinger, who eventually died before the documentary aired and who became the 106th patient of the institute, now joins his mother and first wife, wrapped in a sleeping bag and stored at liquid nitrogen temperature in a cryostat, a floor-to-ceiling ice box.

Sound creepy? It is, especially during the single scene in which we’re witness to the preparation process. Andy Zawacki, who maintains operations and lives at the institute Monday through Friday (“It’s more convenient and practical to stay here”) receives the laboratory’s 100th patient via U-Haul in a box packed to the brim with dry ice. As Zawacki and his team of helpers manhandle the frozen corpse while onlookers take photos with their smartphones, you wonder whether you’re watching an actual documentary or a poor reenactment on the Syfy channel.

Still, We Will Live Again is a brief and fascinating glimpse into a world that doubters might deem disturbing, absurd—even downright disgraceful. They’re nonbelievers, critics say. But by the film’s end, you get the sense that the “metabolically challenged” patients are, if anything, hopeful. As Ettinger says, “Many people cannot be comfortable living with uncertainty. [. . . ] They would rather accept death. But the mark of maturity is serenity in the face of uncertainty.”

Playing as part of Shorts Program Two, June 20, 5:30 PM, at AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, and June 23, 3:45 PM, at the Goethe-Institut.