Something happened on the way to Hereafter: life got really slow

Hereafter – 2010

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring Matt Damon, Cecile de France, Frankie and George McLaren, Jay Mohr, Richard Kind, Lyndsey Marshal

Written by Peter Morgan

So, I really like Clint Eastwood.  Seriously.  And more as a director than an actor, but it’s been close.  I think he asks a lot of questions with his movies, and does not usually bother with supplying the answers.  That is for us: the viewers with brains.  One of the best examples of this was his classic Million Dollar Baby, which moved effortlessly from a overcoming the odds boxing story to an overcome by life debate on euthanasia.  A decision is made at the end of that movie, but it comes with a cost.  Though we feel better informed, we have to come to our own conclusion.  Hard to pull off.  Unforgiven was another example of a decision made at the cost of the person who makes it.  You take every decision in your life with you.

Hereafter deals with what happens to you, regardless of  your decisions.  There is less control, and so, we have no choice but to be more passive.  The decision is made to not question the veracity of the claims that the movie makes.  Instead, you find three classes of person: those who have experienced the afterlife, those who want to believe it, and those who say “don’t be foolish.”  That most of the other worldly experience is described but not shown leaves much of it to the imagination.  This is a good choice artistically, because most of us are in the latter two classes.  We have no basis of comparison and similar descriptions of the afterlife are all we have.

The story of Hereafter is presented in a maypole fashion, intertwining three strands that could not be farther apart, gradually moving them closer until you see that they have all come from the same source, heading to the same destination.  Starting out with a tsunami in Thailand so real that it brings to mind Japan, even though it was filmed much before that disaster.   French television journalist Marie (de France) is swept up by the tide and eventually succumbs to the overwhelming collision of flotsam and bodies.  Efforts to save her are abandoned, and then, miraculously, she comes back to life, having first seen a glimpse of the other side.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, we see former psychic George (Damon) worn down by the effects of his “gift” which to him feels more a curse.  He gives a client of his brother’s (Mohr) a reading which is spot on, even though the client (Kind) plays ignorant to his face.  George doesn’t care.  He listens to Derek Jacobi reading Dickens at night because he cannot sleep.

In London, there are 12-year-old twin boys (Marcus and Jason) who are trying to keep their family together.  The main problem is that their single mother is a substance abuser and the CPS is onto it.  After evading the latest attempt successfully, their mother is so happy, she decides to go straight.  She sends Jason to the Drug Store to pick up her detox prescription.  On the way home, he is accosted by thugs who chase him into the street, where he is hit and killed by a van.  Marcus, who is on the phone with his brother, runs to where he is and finds him dying in the middle of the road.

The rest of the film deals with how these three deal with their lots.  Marie takes a leave from journalism and writes a book on the afterlife experience.  In the process she risks everything from her present and moves into an uncertain future.  George tries a cooking class, but after his experiences lead him down a familiar path, he decides to follow a whim.  Marcus, picked up by CPS, is issued foster parents, but spends his time and their money trying to find a way to communicate with his brother.  When he finally does, it is an unusually remarkable event.

Their journeys bring them all to the same place, and eventually, all of their destinies are intertwined.  The path is not unpredictable, but Eastwood’s gently lulling style meanders in such a way, you almost get the feeling of being adrift.  The subtle jazz score doesn’t help all that much, either.  In the end, one feels no more informed or experienced in the subject than they did before.  There are memorable scenes such as the tsunami and the subway scene, but no new ground is broken.  The passivity of it all makes the movie feel like living in real-time.  What is the point in seeing the movie if it drags you into the mire?  That said, I don’t know that many directors could have done better with the material.

Eastwood is not one to be rushed through material at any time, and that is fine.  Gran Torino could only have worked if we identified with the pacing and speed of the old man.  A sprawling epic does not usually consist of 3 main characters, and the result was the feeling of looking at a room empty of everything, but three items.  You can only move your gaze from one item to the other for so long before you lose interest in the whole scene.

(*** out of *****)

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