Flatliners: The Real MRI Story

As followers of this blog know, I did my own medical review of the recent movie version of Flatliners here and here. I thought there was something off about the MRI scenes, so I asked our resident radiology expert, Shannon Moore, to watch the film and give her thoughts.

Welcome back, Shannon.

I’m a huge fan of the 1990’s version of Flatliners. Kieffer Sutherland and Julia Roberts were brilliant outside of his Lost Boys role and her Pretty Woman phenomenon.

In 2017, an updated version of the Flatliner’s movie was released with Ellen Page. Of course, I had to watch and give my opinion. The movie was as enjoyable as the first one and held my interest and nerves through the entire film.

However, some flaws invaded the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scenes.

MRI Magnets

MRI machines contain a highly charged magnet thousands of times beyond the magnetic field of the earth. Metal objects become projectiles when they are close to the machine. Just to give an idea of this device’s strength, click on the link or search You Tube for MRI accidents after reading this post.

With a magnet so powerful, how can these students use a defibrillator right next to the scanner? The metal paddles, as well as other components in the device, would have become projectiles and caused damage not only to the equipment, but also to the people in the room standing next to the system. An MRI safe defibrillator is being explored, but so far not approved or on the market.

Even the argument they turned off the magnet is not logical. To “quench” or shut off an MRI magnet is not as simple as flipping a switch. In a hospital setting, MRI magnets are only “quenched” in case of a fire or if someone is pinned to the machine. Neither of these happen in this movie. The reason the magnets stay on constantly is because the shutdown process demands a release of helium and causes days of down time. The magnet could be damaged from the quenching process. Therefore, the magnet remains active on a daily basis or in this movie’s case, during their experiment.

The residents use the defibrillator to stop and restart the heart with the person on the MRI table. Real-life cardiac arrest procedures, with the patient in an MRI scanner, is to remove the patient from the scanner and place them on an MRI safe stretcher. They are removed from the room and provided life-saving measures.

Other metal objects in the movie’s experiment room are Courtney’s laptop computer, the heating blanket, laryngoscope, etc. – all containing metal objects and life-threatening projectiles.

MRI Images

 When the residents are gathered in her apartment reviewing the images on a laptop, bolts of lightning or electrical currents appear on the scans—that is all Hollywood.

The type of scan they were showing on the screen was a Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI). This scan is a type of functional MRI that tracts the diffusion of water molecules in the white matter fibers of the brain. The colors in these images are assigned based on orientation. Front and back are usually blue, right to left are red and interior to exterior are green. Recorded electrical pulses are not shown on real MRI images. To be accurate the lightning bolts should not have been added and the actors could have pointed to the areas they were discussing.

MRI Brain Coils

The final inaccuracy is with the brain coil placed on the resident’s heads. It was dainty and petite showing the entire face of the actor.


Here is a real brain coil:


Quite a bit different from what was shown in the movie. In real life, there are a couple of coils to show the face, but they would have hindered the actor’s ability to intubate which again would not be done in an MRI Scan room because of the metal Laryngoscope used.


Overall, the movie was entertaining and interesting, but the MRI scenes need some resuscitation.
Shannon Moore Redmon writes romantic suspense stories, to entertain and share the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. Her stories dive into the healthcare environment where Shannon holds over twenty years of experience as a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. Her extensive work experience includes Radiology, Obstetrics/Gynecology and Vascular Surgery.

As the former Education Manager for GE Healthcare, she developed her medical professional network across the country. Today, Shannon teaches ultrasound at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and utilizes many resources to provide accurate healthcare research for authors requesting her services.

She is a member of the ACFW and Blue Ridge Mountain Writer’s Group. Shannon is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. She lives and drinks too much coffee in North Carolina with her husband, two boys and her white foo-foo dog, Sophie.

3 thoughts on “Flatliners: The Real MRI Story

  1. Also, their CPR sucked. I died of a cardiac arrest, but was resuscitated. Cor is no joke, hurt worse and for longer than the icd placement, and they didnt even break ribs. I was lucky.


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