It was months back, but I recall that my brother was quite enthused about Clint Eastwood‘s (at the time) forthcoming feature film Hereafter. The subject matter, Death, and/or Life After Death (LAD), and how living people come to terms with it, just wasn’t on my calendar for a nice winter movie, even though winter is almost a foreign term in southwest Florida. Okay, maybe there was a bit of interest because I’ve been to Phuket, a Thailand beach resort island, three times, and I’ve stayed in two hotels that would go on to suffer severe damages from the tsunami. Fortunately I wasn’t in Phuket when the tsunami hit.
But anyway I gave Hereafter a pass. But now that it is June, and I was able to get this film from Netflix, I gave it a shot. Eastwood opens his film with the tsunami with Maui standing in for Phuket. A French girl, Marie Lelay, played by Cecile De France, is swept away by the onrushing waves, and she drowns… well almost.
She’s pulled out of the water, and they try to resuscitate her. She doesn’t respond. We then see Eastwood’s interpretation of death where in Marie’s mind, she’s in a place that is all light, with darkly shadowed people milling around. Are they waiting for something? Are they searching for people they know? We don’t know. Maybe this is death’s anteroom. Or maybe it is the last place or state we are in before death turns out our lights leaving us forever in the eternal void.
But Marie doesn’t die. Moments later she coughs up some water, regains consciousness and is fully alive.
Hereafter actually centers or approaches the topic from three perspectives. Marie Lelay is a French TV journalist. She’s beautiful, successful, and is so very happy. Back in Paris, after her near death experience, or maybe she did experience death as an French doctor would tell her later, Marie wants answers , and she has trouble getting past her experience. In fact, she can’t get past it.
In San Francisco, we meet George Lonegan portrayed by Matt Damon. He will tell us that because of a childhood disease that nearly killed him, he somehow has acquired the power to function as a psychic. From merely holding a person’s hands for a few moments, he is able to ‘see’ into that person’s mind and convey thoughts and words from a recently deceased member of that person’s family.
George Lonegan became famous and made a lot of money. He had an office, a website, newspaper articles, and even a book had been written about him. But he walked away from it all and took an anonymous factory job for 2K a month. Lonegan’s brother Billy wanted him to go back to the world of psychics, to not only share his gift with the world, but to also profit handsomely from it. But George said, “It’s not a gift – it’s a curse.”
Lonegan said that it was impossible to have a normal relationship with anyone if they knew about his power. In fact, we even experience this with him, and a beautiful girl he meets in a cooking class. There’s a phone message left in George’s apartment, and after overhearing it, she begs him to see if he can communicate with her Mother who has passed on. He protests and protests, but she convinces him to do it for her. Once he’s done this, she leaves the apartment, and he never sees her again.
As George’s brother Billy said quoting George: “A life about death is no life at all.”
The third person that the film focuses on is Marcus, a 12 year old boy living in London. He has a twin brother Jason, who is older by a few minutes. They are played by real life twin boys,
Frankie and George McLaren. But Jason is killed by a truck while trying to escape from some street bullies. Marcus is devastated. His Mom is an alcoholic, and she can’t cope either. His Mom gives him up by placing him into a foster care system.
Marcus is lost without his brother. But he’s a tough kid, and even though his foster parents are nice and decent people, who have opened up their home to Marcus, he really isn’t adjusting well at all. He misses Jason too much, so he starts to investigate Life After Death.
Marie flounders. She agrees to take time off from her high profile TV job. She agrees to write a book about Mitterand. But her near death experience overwhelms everything else.
George is going to lose his factory job.
Marcus steals money from his foster parents and spends it consulting psychics and mediums, some of which are quacks, or charlatans, or frauds.
Eastwood is going to tie these three story strands together. He has set us up with the questions about what is death, is there an afterlife, and is it possible for communication between the living and the dead. The questions aren’t answered because they can’t be answered. But that doesn’t diminish the film – I believe it enhances it.
Some have said that Hereafter doesn’t really get into the topic deeply enough. Well, I say that it depends on your own perspective or how interested you are in pursuing that broad topic of Life After Death. In a two hour film, Eastwood’s objectives should be to see if he can make you think about the topic, and to raise some questions for the movie going public to think about; he should not be aiming to ask and answer these questions for us.
Because obviously there are no concrete answers. Dr Rousseau (mentioned above) had this exchange with Marie:
Dr. Rousseau: You know, as a scientist and atheist my mind was closed to such things. Oh, absolutely. Afterlife, near-death experiences , like everyone else, I thought people saw bright lights, Eden-like gardens and so forth because they were culturally conditioned to do so. But after 25 years in a hospice working with people, many of whom were pronounced dead but then miraculously survived. the account of what they actually experienced were so strikingly similar it couldn’t just be coincidence. And add to that the fact that when they had these experiences they were almost all unconscious, a state in which my enemies agree the brain cannot create fresh images.
Marie Lelay: So you think I really did experience something?
Dr. Rousseau: Oh, yes. I think you experienced death.
But Rousseau’s words convey only the same cultural conditioning that she had already referenced. Coincidence is not the same as is proof, is it?
I think the film was well crafted. The gimmicky way of tying the three story strands together was necessary, and shouldn’t be seen as false, nor should it be considered a flaw in the screenplay. Damon’s role was fairly straightforward, and his character was likeable at worst. Cecile De France’s Marie Lelay was for me the most memorable and the most realistic character.
The McLaren’s as Marcus/Jason had a difficult role. Sullen, silent, and morose are easy to conceptualize, but not so easy to make them work on screen.
As for Eastwood’s direction – I liked every aspect of the film including the CGI tsunami effects. This film will not go down as one of his finest efforts but is certainly an exemplary effort. While Hereafter will not be everyone’s ideal film, nor will it ever ‘Make My Day’, it may very well be of interest to you.