So 'Grease' Might Have Been a Trippy Near-Death Experience

As far as classic movies go, Grease was always refreshingly straightforward: Good girl falls for bad boy after bad boy, one of whom fails to save her from drowning, so she hallucinates their entire relationship at the moment of her untimely death.

Wait, what?

That’s the version of the film that Reddit user atomicbolt proposed in 2013, unable to get over the fact that the red convertible Sandy and Danny get into at the end of the movie “defies the laws of gravity and flies into the sky.” The only explanation, atomicbolt argues, is that when Danny sings, in “Summer Nights,” that he “saved her life/She nearly drowned,” that she actually did die.

In other words: “The entire movie was a drowning woman’s coma fantasy.”

It’s a pretty plausible explanation, scientifically speaking. Anecdotes of near-death hallucinations abound in history, literature, and film, and researchers have long attempted to investigate the biological mechanisms underlying those visions.

Summer days drifting away to oh, oh, an end-of-life hallucination?

In 2013, they succeeded: An article published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences showed that dying brains are, surprisingly, incredibly active — active enough to produce the visual hallucinations so often described by people who have returned from the verge of death.

At the near-death state, the brain undergoes a surge of coherence and connectivity that exceeds normal levels, the paper reports. The usual visions — lights at the end of the tunnel, and so on — are thought to be caused by activation in the brain’s visual cortex after the heart stops beating.

As for more complex near-death hallucinations, like meeting dead relatives or, say, a steamy high school fling with a slick-haired John Travolta? In a National Geographic interview, the paper’s lead researcher, Jimo Borjigin, Ph.D., speculated that “[perhaps] a memory is triggered at the moment of crisis,” but admitted that data to support that theory didn’t exist yet.

The surge in brain activity, the paper posited, is simply the brain’s last-ditch effort to survive. Poor damp-suited Sandy, already suffering from an incapacitating cramp, might not have had the physiological juice to turn away from her first hallucination of her summer fling, showing off and splashing around. When she sings “Summer sun, something’s begun,” she might just be singing, morbidly, about the initiation of her 110-minute-long coma; we might have been watching her fever dream all along.

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