Netflix Dramedy After Life and the Uncanny Nature of Grief
The concept of das unheimlich (Jentsch 1902), or the uncanny, is applied to the phenomenology of grief and the manner loss transforms a person’s familiar life-world into an uncertain and unfamiliar space. Discussion of the collision of the foreign (emptiness and absence) with the familiar (conjugal material objects and spaces) as a dimension of grief has been infrequent and unsystematic. This article argues that this understanding of the uncanny is commendably conveyed by the Netflix grief-comedy or dramedy After Life, written by, and starring Ricky Gervais. The UK series focuses on the anguished existence of a widower as he endures the perpetuation of his life without his wife. Characterisation of bereavement, as the experience of having someone “suddenly ripped from one’s life-world” (Dubose 1997: 368), is obscured in After Life by the continued presence (and digital afterlife) of his wife via ‘home videos’ and the video diaries she secretly recorded whilst dying. The dead’s continued presence throughout After Life reflects wider trends for the dying turning to digital services such as Safe Beyond to leave ‘date messages’ (birthdays, or anniversaries) or ‘event messages’ (weddings, graduations) that will continue to insert the physically departed into the lives of loved ones at key intervals of life. This paper explores the manner in which After Life serves to reflect on both the transformed experience of spaces in mourning and how screens contribute to the uncanny nature of grief.
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