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Have We Met Somewhere Before? A Retrospective Look at Reincarnation in Modern Romance Films

I will admit to being highly interested in the paranormal. Ever since I was a child, I gravitated toward the weird and unusual. The idea of ghosts didn’t frighten me rather I was intrigued by the notion that there would be an afterlife. 

As an adult, I have retained my curiosity in the supernatural realm. Having been raised as a Catholic and an Irish one to boot, religion has influenced my creative life whether I want to admit it or not. While I no longer practice or attend Mass, I consider myself a spiritual person. Eastern philosophy and religion hold a huge appeal to me. The notion of reincarnation has always been fascinating. Is it possible that we have lived before and perhaps, loved before? It is believed that every person who plays a role in our lives doesn’t appear by accident. There is some design behind why they are there. 

Maybe you bonded with your best friend over movies or your significant other shares your love of modern art. You know your “soul tribe” when you find them. That is why I believe that until we learn our karmic lessons, we will meet up with the same souls over and over again in whatever lifetimes we inhabit.

It might be crazy and unrealistic to think that two strangers could lock eyes, meet and instantaneously know that they are meant for one another. However, that sort of thing DOES occur. There are couples who knew from the moment they saw their beloved that everyone else paled in comparison. The idea that their souls might have already known one another in a past life or another realm could have played a part in how they found one another again. 

Aren’t we all searching for our perfect counterpart? That person who understands us and loves us unconditionally? Don’t we long for our Twin Flame? The yin to our yang, the other half of our soul that when they enter our world, we are propelled to new heights and new accomplishments? 

Of course, I may be delusional but I don’t think so. I am not the only one who believes in fate and the idea of “crossing oceans of time” to find the one that we love. There are many famous works in literature that address the subject. One of my favorite authors, Richard Matheson wrote a wonderful book called, Bid Time Return, which later became the movie, Somewhere in Time (1980) starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. 

The story followed a young playwright in the 1970s who becomes infatuated with the picture of a 19th-century actress. So much so, that he unlocks the secret of time travel to be with her. The pair meet and are instantly enamored with one another. Despite the circumstances that conspire to keep them apart, they find one another again even after death. 

Edgar Allan Poe, the master of macabre also wrote about past lives and worlds colliding to unite lovers. In The Oval Portrait, the narrator of the story falls for a young girl in a picture at an abandoned mansion in the Apennines. There was something familiar about her that caught his fancy.

Then there is Dracula. Now, the Francis Ford Coppola lavish epic of 1992, Bram Stoker’s Dracula depicts Mina Murray, Jonathan Harker’s fiancée as being the reincarnated spirit of his beloved wife, Elisabeth. In Stoker’s book, the romance is not addressed but there is an attraction of sorts between the two characters. She does fall under his spell and allows him to control her. 

Literature embraces the concept of reincarnated souls finding one another again. It only seems logical that Hollywood would follow suit. I decided to take a look at four beautiful films where Eastern beliefs intersect with Western tales of romance. 

I, Origins (2014)

Mike Cahill has directed a masterpiece blending science with the spiritual realm. Reincarnation is the theme and I defy anyone to not be moved by this incredible effort. Not many people are aware of this production which is a shame possibly because it had a limited release in the U.S. after playing the festival circuit. 

For those of you that remember Michael Pitt from Funny Games (2007), Seven Psychopaths (2012), The Dreamers (2003) and Murder by Numbers (2002), the floppy-haired teen idol is no more in I, Origins. He is mature and somewhat emotionally closed off molecular biology graduate student named Ian Gray. Most days, he works in the lab trying to prove that human eyes evolved and didn’t just appear as religion would have you believe. 

In his spare time, he wanders around with his camera taking pictures. When he is at a party with his friend, he runs into a captivating free-spirited model named Sofi. Since he is obsessed with eyes and we all know that they are the window to the soul, he takes a picture of her and she is instantly smitten with the young scientist. 

Ian, on the other hand, while mildly fascinated with Sofi attempts to keep his distance. After all, she believes in past lives and the notion that they knew one another long ago. Gray’s world is logic and order, he feels that it doesn’t mesh at all with hers. For those of you that are familiar with the Twin Flame dynamic of two souls that are joined throughout eternity, Sofi is the “chaser” and Ian is the “runner.” 

Eventually, Ian is worn down and he allows himself to fall in love with this mercurial girl. The pair have a whirlwind wedding. However, all is not paradise. When she implores Ian to take her to his lab, he does so but she manages to knock over some toxic solution that goes into Ian’s eyes temporarily injuring him. They have a horrible fight in the elevator on the way to their apartment that ends in tragedy as his young bride is cut in half by the doors and dies in his arms.

He mourns her terribly and everywhere he goes; he sees patterns of the number 11 in everything. 11 represents spiritual enlightenment and awakening. It is an “angel” number and is perceived as a sign from above. One day, he follows all of the 11’s that he sees in building windows and he is lead to a billboard of Sofi’s eyes. 

Since he never had closure with her and never got to say goodbye, this haunts Ian. Although he is married with a child, Sofi is still that specter hanging over his head, unforgettable. Through a series of events dealing with his work with the evolution of eyes for which he has gained some notoriety, he stumbles upon eye mapping which is a computer program that matches deceased people’s eyes to their living counterparts. When he finds out that Sofi’s eyes are shared by a young girl in India, he travels to find her. 

When he finally meets her, he decides to perform a test on her to see if she retains any of Sofi’s memories. Unfortunately, after a promising start, the little girl does not pass. When Ian takes her down the hall to the elevator, she grows increasingly nervous and when the doors open, she latches onto him crying and screaming in Hindi. 

It dawns on Ian that she is his lost love and is reliving her gruesome demise. Looking into her eyes, he sees the woman that remained in his heart and is able to say goodbye. In my opinion, this story is the perfect blend of skepticism and belief. When science leads you to the truth that you have lived before and have melded with another soul, that is amazingly powerful. 

Heaven Can Wait (1978)

Yes, this is a comedy and a well-written one at that. Warren Beatty started out in the entertainment business as being a pretty face but quickly proved that he could not only act but write and direct as well. Heaven Can Wait is the re-telling of the 1941 film, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, starring Robert Montgomery (father of Elizabeth Montgomery, Samantha on Bewitched) as Boxer Joe Pendleton who is killed before his time and is allowed to get a temporary second chance at life. 

Beatty’s film operates under the same premise except his Joe is a quarterback who is going to start in a huge game for the L.A. Rams. He is taken way too soon by an overzealous angel after a horrible biking accident in a tunnel. Recognizing that mistakes were made, the head angel and right-hand man to the Lord himself, Mr. Jordan decides to give Joe another life since technically, heaven messed up. 

When he is returned, it is in the body of a murdered millionaire named Leo Farnsworth. Leo was killed at the hands of his assistant Tony Abbott and his conniving wife Julia. However, as Leo/Joe soon realizes his new life is going to be quite challenging. Not only will he have to juggle his wife who is having an affair with his assistant but he will also have to figure out how to get his spot back on the Rams and to complicate matters even further, he falls in love with activist, Betty Logan. 

The fun part about this film is the way Beatty’s character has to convince his old pal, Max Corkle that he is Joe Pendleton reincarnated. However, he manages to make him believe. Betty, on the other hand, knows him only as Leo Farnsworth, her patron. In between buying the Rams so that he can play football again and wooing Betty who feels as if she has known him before (its something about his eyes) things are quite hectic for Leo/Joe. 

In the end, he gets his girl and also the chance to play in the Super Bowl for his old team but there is a glitch. Just as he asks Betty to marry him, Mr. Jordan appears and tells him that he has to leave Farnsworth’s body and reminds him of the temporary arrangement that they had. While all this is happening, Julia and Tony are still plotting Leo/Joe’s demise. 

Realizing that he has no choice but to leave Betty behind, he tells her to “remember what she saw in his eyes.” Confused, he embraces her and tells her there is “nothing to be afraid of.” Julia and Tony succeed in getting rid of Leo by shooting him when he is walking on his property. His body tumbles into a well. 

Joe returns to heaven and meanwhile, Betty is heartbroken at Leo’s disappearance. The Super Bowl is getting closer and no Farnsworth so Tom Jarrett starts as the quarterback. However, as luck would have it, he is injured in the game and Joe is tapped to return to Earth. This time as Jarrett. However, he has no recollection of his past lives now after he inhabits his new body. 

Max knows that it must be his pal, Joe who is back in business. However, when he approaches Tom after the Rams win the Super Bowl, Corkle realizes his friend is no longer there and he has to mourn his passing for a second time. 

Jarrett is on his way to the after-party when he bumps into Betty. There is something about her that draws his attention. He is immediately attracted to her and she is to him as well. He asks her out for coffee and looking deeply into his eyes, she realizes who he is and utters the words, “You’re the quarterback?” 

In both I, Origins and Heaven Can Wait, the notion of recognizing someone on a soul level is through the eyes. Have you ever found yourself with someone that when you look into their eyes, you feel as if you have known them before? That somehow you were meant to find them so that your spirit could rejoin theirs? It happens. Life does imitate art or we wouldn’t have so many movies about this spiritual phenomenon. 

Chances Are (1989)

Before Iron Man (2008), Robert Downey, Jr. played adorable, comedic parts like Alex Finch in Chances Are. In this 1989 Emile Ardolino effort, family man and newlywed, Louie Jefferies has everything going for him:  a great job, a beautiful wife Corinne and a baby on the way. However, all that ends when he is hit by a car crossing the road on his way to meet Corinne to celebrate their anniversary.

Years later, Corinne who has a grown daughter, Miranda has not remarried. She has been taken care of by her and Louie’s mutual best friend, Philip Train. Unbeknownst to Corinne, Philip has carried a torch for her since the trio met in college. Miranda is away at the University studying law when she runs into Alex who is working in the library. Instantly smitten with the cute co-ed, he foregoes her overdue book fees and lets her check out the materials that she needs for class. 

The funny part about this exchange is that Alex feels as if he knows Miranda from somewhere before and indeed, he does. As it turns out, he is her father, Louie reincarnated. Before his soul entered Alex’s, Louie made a deal to come back to Earth for a second time with his guardian in heaven much like Warren Beatty’s character did in Heaven Can Wait. However, before souls return to a new life, they have to be inoculated so that they don’t remember who they were. Unfortunately, Louie’s angel misses him. 

Graduation is coming up and immediately afterward, Miranda goes back home to DC and Alex ends up there because he is trying to get a job with The Washington Post. Already, the universe has put things in motion for Alex/Louie to run into Corinne. 

Alex bumps into Miranda who is surprised to see him in Washington. She ends up taking him back to her house and introduces him to her mother and Philip. Philip remembers Alex because he tried to pitch a story to editor Ben Bradlee at The Washington Post where he works only to be rejected. This impressed Train who also has the sense that Alex is a bit familiar. When Finch sees Corinne for the first time, he recognizes her. She doesn’t see who he is and thinks that he is a bit odd. To complicate matters, Miranda is falling for him but he realizes that it is Corinne that he needs to be with. 

After some amusing bits to set up the premise that he is Louie like knowing where things are in the house, getting bits of information about Philip and Corinne that he shouldn’t have, finally, the pair are convinced that maybe Alex is Louie come back to life. Miranda tries to engage Alex by even slipping into his bed at night only to be rejected. This hurts her because she can’t figure out why he treats her like a child and why suddenly, he isn’t attracted to her. 

Despite the awkwardness, Alex/Louie’s persistence to woo Corinne pays off and the two start spending quite a bit of time together much to Philip and Miranda’s dismay. Things come to a head when Philip and Alex are arguing over Corinne and Alex knocks him out. This angers Corinne who rushes to Philip’s side. At that moment, Alex/Louie becomes aware that chances are he and his beloved wife will never get to resume their lives together. 

So, he sets it up that Philip and Corinne become a couple. After a freak accident, leaves him in the hospital, his Guardian Angel locates him and gives him his shot under the ruse of being his physician. When he awakens, he has no memories left of Louie’s life. However, when Miranda comes to visit him, they find that they are attracted to one another and in the end, they fall in love. Philip finally gets his girl and marries Corinne. 

This may not be the best movie dealing with reincarnation but it has a certain charm, thanks in part to Downey’s enthusiastic and credible performance. We feel for Alex/Louie and we want him to win back the love of his life and are heartbroken when he loses his past life memory but elated when he ends up with a part of his old world by being Miranda’s boyfriend. 

Made in Heaven (1987)

Out of all the films that deal with the concept of spirits reuniting in another lifetime, Made in Heaven is the best production that addresses the idea of Twin Flames. Twin Flames are the same soul. There are a divine male side and a divine female side that were in perfect union in another realm. The pair make an agreement before being reborn that one will be the “runner” and the other will be the “chaser.” They even pre-determine when they will reunite with one another.

For those who have experienced separation from their Twin Flame, it can be agonizing. You walk around feeling as if you are missing part of your inner being. 

In Alan Rudolph’s brilliant effort, we are introduced to Mike Shea and Annie. Two soul flames that fall in love in heaven and follow one another to Earth to be reborn into new bodies. Mike died in the 1940s when he was trying to rescue a family who had driven their car off a bridge. When he winds up in heaven, he becomes acquainted with pure and benevolent Annie who has never been born. 

The pair fall in love and Mike ends up proposing to Annie. On their wedding day, she’s whisked away to Earth because it’s her time to be born. Distraught, Mike approaches Elmo who is God’s assistant. Despite Elmo’s better judgment, he ends up giving his approval for Mike to inhabit another body so that he can find Annie and join with her again. There is a catch. If he doesn’t find her by the time, he turns 30, then he will never have her. 

Annie returns as Ally Chandler, the daughter of a wealthy toy manufacturer. In heaven, Annie was fascinated with them. Mike’s soul becomes Elmo Barnett. Poor Elmo is born into unfortunate circumstances. He is poor and neglected by his mother in favor of his “Uncle” of the week. The pair live parallel lives with Ally marrying her college filmmaker beau, Tom Donnelly. Elmo, on the other hand, decides he is going to hitchhike across the country to try and find a better life for himself. 

Both have their challenges in their respective worlds and there are signs all around them showing them how to find one another but they don’t heed them. In Ally’s case, she writes a successful children’s book about her imaginary friend growing up named Mike. Elmo is obsessed with music and although he has never taken a lesson, he has this theme running through his head which just happens to be the tune that was playing on Mike’s wedding day to Annie. 

However, neither are lucky in love and find themselves lost and forlorn. Ally’s marriage to Tom falls apart due to his infidelity. Elmo is a mess who gets embroiled in a crime when he falls for the wrong woman. One of the most poignant and potent scenes in the film is when Ally gets drunk and is arrested for public intoxication. As she can barely walk and she is bereft because she has just lost the love of her life, she collapses into her father’s arms crying and asking, “Why doesn’t he love me, Daddy?” 

At the same exact time, Elmo is sitting in a fleabag hotel staring at his image in a mirror. He is also drinking and looking at his reflection, we can see tears running down his face. He feels Ally’s pain because they are meant to be with one another and yet everything keeps propelling them apart. At his lowest point, Elmo decides to get his act together. He becomes serious about his music and starts on a path to getting the song that has been in his head forever, recorded. 

Both of them are approaching their 30th birthdays and haven’t found one another yet. It would appear that all is lost but it isn’t. The universe starts to work. Elmo cuts an album that produces the hit single, “We Never Danced.” He ends up in New York to make the publicity rounds where Ally resides. Now, the two are near one another. 

After completing one of his interviews for his work, Elmo heads out to the streets of New York for a walk. Ally is also walking behind him. When Elmo gets to a crosswalk, he senses that he should turn around but he continues on his journey. Ally is getting closer. As if spirits are tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention, he finally turns where he locks eyes with Ally. They hear one another’s voices in their heads when they were Mike and Annie in heaven. Their souls are together once again…

About Susan Leighton

Susan Leighton has written for many entertainment sites including 1428 Elm, VHS Revival, Cult Faction, The Queen of Style, TV Series Hub, Heroic Hollywood, That's My E and Crash Palace. She is known for her interviews with genre icons, Bruce Campbell, Joe Lansdale, Joe Bob Briggs, Dee Wallace, Michael Ironside, Jeffrey Combs, Josh Becker, Danny Hicks, Brent Jennings and Alice Krige. As well as prominent paranormal experts, Christopher Garetano, Chuck Zuckowski, Paul Bradford, Daryl Marston and Kristen Luman. She has also hosted two podcasts, Nerdrotic & Pop Culture Minefield. Her short stories are featured on the Get Scared Podcast on all platforms. Currently, she is writing a paranormal TV series and a feature film script with the hope of eventually obtaining "hyphenate" status, lol. Look for her collection of essays to be included in Lee Gambin's upcoming compilation on great sitcoms of the70's and 80's, "Tonight, on a Very Special Episode."

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