Tag Archives: Jana Muschinski

Immortal organism?

This article published in the New York Times looks at the discovery of and research on a very simple organism that seems to be immortal. Could the study of these jellyfish help us learn how to evade death? If so, should that be an avenue we pursue?




Several months ago I saw Gus Van Sant’s 2011 movie Restless for the first time. I admit I was originally drawn to it because Henry Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s son, was playing one of the leads and I was curious as to what the son of director and costar of Easy Rider fame would bring to the big screen. As I watched, however, my attention was drawn to the presence of death in the film and the differences in the way those who have to face their own passing and those who have to face the death of a loved one deal with it.
Restless follows the story of two young adults, Enoch and Annabel, who both have had more than their faire share of experience with death. After meeting at a funeral Annabel was attending and Enoch crashing, the two develop a relationship. However, because Annabel is suffering from a brain tumor the two are only projected to have three months together, during which time they are forced to come to terms with Annabel’s imminent death.
Annabel has a calm understanding of her situation right from the beginning, while those around her are much less accepting and are sometimes even frustrated by her seemingly blasé way of talking about her own death. Throughout the film it’s clear that living with the constant presence of death, whether in the form of another patient’s funeral or her own prognosis, has drastically changed her view on life. At one point while talking with her sister, Annabel says that only having three more months doesn’t really both her since in the large scheme of things the existence of humanity itself is just a small speck on the universe’s timeline. Many times she also mentions that there’s a type of songbird that thinks it dies every time the sun goes down and sings in happiness every morning when the sun rises because it realizes it’s still alive.
Enoch on the other hand was never able to properly grieve the death of his parents, resulting in unresolved anger and an inability on some levels to deal with death. Though at first it seems he’s accepted that his girlfriend only has 3 months to live, it becomes clear later on that what seemed to be acceptance was really denial. The final half hour of the film focuses on his coming to terms with Annabel’s approaching death, partially facilitated by his interactions with his “ghost friend,” a kamikaze pilot called Hiroshi with whom he talks and plays battleship.
While rewatching the film this week there were two points in the film that especially made me think of discussions we’ve had in Death and Burial this semester. About halfway through the film Annabel mentions that she’d like to donate her body to science. Enoch is very unhappy with her decision and states that he doesn’t like the idea of people cutting her into pieces and “putting her eyes in jars.” This made me think about the potential effect on family members when someone decides to donate their body to science or for organ donation. Do most people consult their loved ones before making that decision? Should loved ones have a significant say, since in the end they’re the ones who are really affected by what happens after death? Later on in the film Enoch and Annabel rehearse a “death scene” they’d prepared for Annabel. She’d planned out precisely how she wanted to die. This reminded me of the way medieval good deaths were organized and also how some people plan out their funerals ahead of time to the last detail. I did find it somewhat odd that she was planning out her death scene, not her funeral, though this does go back to the importance, even today, of the moment of death in how an individual’s death is viewed. Many films contain death-related material, but not many flat out address it as Restless does. Often when a film’s focus is death the film is somewhat confrontational, while Restless managed to introduce and discuss the concept in a surprisingly open and comforting way.

Jana Muschinski





The Frozen Dead Guy Days

Some families traditionally cremate their deceased, some bury them, and in Colorado we sometimes like to keep them chilling in a shed in the back. Literally.

About 15 miles down the road from my home in the foothills of the Rockies, there is a relatively small town called Nederland, Colorado. Around 1300 people inhabit the mountain town, yet if you drive by during the first week of March you are sure to find it packed. You may also accidentally run into a scheduled coffin race or ice turkey bowling contest. In 2012 Nederland celebrated the 10th annual Frozen Dead Guy Days festival, inspired by and dedicated to “Grandpa Bredo,” more formally known as Bredo Morstoel.

Mr. Morstoel is originally from Norway and after passing away spent several years at a cryonics facility in California. Since 1993, several of his relatives, who reside in Nederland, have kept him cool in the “Tuff Shed,” a mini cryonics facility on their property in Nederland. Unfortunately his daughter Aud Morstoel and grandson Trygve Bauge experienced some trouble with visas and a near eviction because of electricity and running water requirements, but with the help of a local reporter Grandpa Bredo became an international sensation. There has been some minor continued legal trouble surrounding the housing of Mr. Morstoel in the Tuff shed and the festival that is dedicated to him, including a new Nederland law concerning the storing of bodies (which does not, however, apply to Mr. Morstoel since he was already being housed in Nederland at the time of the creation of the law) and a complaint filed by the family concerning festival naming rights.

Even so, the festival is still going strong and grows with each year. This past year’s events included tours to the Tuff Shed, cryogenics presentations, Snowy Beach volleyball, and a polar plunge among other events and musical performances.

Being enrolled in a class that focuses on the topic of death and burial, the Frozen Dead Guy Days immediately caught my attention the first time I saw a flyer. I’ve always been interested in cryonics, but have never had the chance to view a cryonics facility or listen to a lecture on it. At what point does the freezing or the work of the cryonics team begin, since pinpointing a time of death becomes more difficult with every medical advancement? How does brain death fit into this? If a patient is certified brain dead, can the team from the hired cryonics facility come in and begin their work on an otherwise living body? Would this really be any different than if the process of organ donation were to be started right after brain death?

Though cryonics and the housing of deceased relatives on private property raises a lot of legal, moral, and just plain interesting questions, what I do know is that next time I’m in town during that first week of March, I will be hopping on the bus to Nederland for the weekend.

To read the fully history of the Frozen Dead Guy Days and find more information on the festival, see http://frozendeadguydays.org/aboutfdgd.

Jana Muschinski