Flatliners (2017) : Movie Plot Ending Explained

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, Flatliners is an undeclared remake of the original 1990 movie by the same name. The cast includes Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, Kiefer Sutherland (who is in both the movies). The story is about a group of students who want to investigate the afterlife and put themselves in near-death situations. Obviously, sh*t happens. Here’s the explanation of the plot and ending of the film Flatliners, spoilers ahead.

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Plot Explanation

Conceptually there is no difference between the original Flatliners and this one. Given Kiefer Sutherland is in both movies, it could have had a better connection to the first movie but Kiefer’s characters name is different, and nothing explicit is mentioned that connects this film to the old one.

Courtney (Ellen) is plagued by the guilt of a car accident she gets into because she’s distracted on her phone while driving. While she survives, her younger sister drowns and dies. Secretly working on a project, Courtney wants to record the activities of her brain when in a near death situation. She involves her friends Jamie (James) and Sophia (Kiersey) in this experiment. They are instructed to stop her heart for 60 seconds, record her brain activities, and then defibrillate her back to life. They call Ray (Diego) for help and Marlo (Nina) joins as well. After a little struggle, they bring Courtney back to life.

When flatlined, Courtney experiences a fantastic feeling followed by a certain darkness. This is later attributed to her most significant regret and guilt – the death of her sister. In this process, her brain is somehow rewired to access every repressed memory and function at a much higher capacity. Soon the others begin to flatline except for Ray. While initially, it gives them an intelligence advantage but they soon begin to experience paranormal activities.

Let’s pause here to understand the concept portrayed by this film. The paranormal events are merely hallucinations which are induced by the brain amplifying specific memories and their guilt associated with them. Long story short – this is not a horror film, there are no ghosts.

  • Courtney holds herself responsible for her sister’s death, so she sees an angry ghost of her sister out to get her.
  • Jamie has abandoned his pregnant girlfriend to fend for herself, so he’s haunted by a ghostly version of her and a baby.
  • Marlo has killed a patient by administering an incorrect drug and has hidden this fact by modifying the records, so she’s haunted by that dead guy.
  • Sophia has once leaked naked pictures of a classmate which ruins her life and hence is haunted by her.


The inability to forgive herself causes Courtney to hallucinate so strongly that she imagines her sister’s ghost pushing her off the escape stairs. She falls to her death. The others are devastated and worried if their little experiments were found they’d lose their careers. Marlo quickly retrieves Courtney’s phone and laptop. As a group, they watch the last video Courtney records and realize that she had hallucinations of her sister haunting her. They confess to each about their hallucinations and come to understand that their “ghosts” are not necessarily people who died. For example, Jamie is haunted by the ghost of his ex-girlfriend who is still alive. That it is their amplified guilt that is attacking them.

Ending Explained

  • Sophia locates and apologizes to the girl she once destroyed and is forgiven for what she did.
  • Jamie finds and offers to take on responsibilities for his son and ex-girlfriend, at least financially.
  • Marlo feels that her admitting her cover-up to the dean can cost her her career and refuses to do so.

Instead, Marlo decides to flatline and apologize to the apparition of the dead patient. Well, that doesn’t work out too well, the dead guy begins taking revenge – meaning, though Marlo is sorry for her actions, she is still not forgiving herself for it. Eventually, she imagines Courtney telling her to forgive herself, and she does. Outside, her friends are able to find and revive her from her near-dead state. Marlo then goes and admits to the dean and is put on probation.

They throw away Courtney’s laptop into the sea and decide to not go back to this flatlining business. Jamie, Sophia, Marlo, and Ray meet at a bar and drink to Courtney while an old guy plays a tune Courtney once played for them. No there is no correlation between this guy and Courtney, it’s just a coincidence. The film ends.

Plot Hole

Well, this is not regarding a story inconsistency but more of a visual gap. At various moments we are shown their guilt materializing as ghosts. This is absolutely fine, it’s how their fears are being realized by them. But, like a standard horror film, there are scenes where we (the audience) see the “ghosts” even when the characters aren’t seeing them. E.g., we are shown that girl walk by behind Sophia even though she doesn’t see her, we see Jamie’s ex-girlfriend’s ghost sneak up behind him even if he doesn’t. While this works in a standard horror film where the “ghosts” exist independent of the characters, in this movie it is not so. The “ghosts” exist only in the mind of the characters, and if they aren’t seeing them, ideally the audience shouldn’t have been seeing them either.