Hereafter (PG-13)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Matt Damon, Cecile de France, Jay Mohr

Eastwood tells the story of three different characters plagued by their relationship with the afterlife; a French television journalist who is nearly killed in a jaw-dropping tsunami, a man with the ability to speak with the dead, but no longer wants to, and a young boy who is desperately seeking out the connection he feels with his dead twin brother.  The stories meander along, giving us time to ponder the theme of the power of our beliefs concerning what happens after death, and how profoundly those beliefs can affect our waking existence.

The opening scene was absolutely powerful; my mouth was open for ten solid minutes because of how breathtaking and startling it was, and how real it felt.  Through all three storylines Eastwood brings us in close with exactly what the characters are going through, and through a sympathetic lens, forces us to deal with their frustration and feel their helplessness along with them.

Marie Lelay (de France) cannot escape the visions she had when she nearly drowned.  People have a hard time taking her seriously, and she’s unable to do anything except explore and question the things she felt and saw.  This is effecting her relationship and her job and most importantly, her sanity, giving her no other option than to explore what could have happened to her.

George (Damon) used to use his gift (which he now claims is a curse) to do psychic readings, allowing grieving individuals contact with their deceased loved ones.  But as he tells his brother, who keeps attempting to bring him back into the death-message business, “A life all about death is no life at all.”  He’s alone because people think he’s weird, and he’s forced to take jobs that he doesn’t want because of his aversion to channeling other people’s grief.

In the most tragic of the stories, Marcus (McLaren), who must help take care of his drug-addicted mother, is there when his twin brother is hit by a truck and killed.  Though his brother is gone, he can still feel, and cannot help but seek out, some sort of unknown and ethereal link to him.  His mother cannot take care of herself, so Marcus is taken from her, and makes it increasingly difficult for his foster parents because he is so independent due to his mother’s lack of responsibility, which gives him the ability (and the balls) to just wander around town seeking out people who claim to have a connection with the dead.

The use of special effects was perfect and subtle, both for the tsunami and for Eastwood’s visual depiction of the afterlife.  It wasn’t anything grand or specific, merely a sort of blue, floating feeling with a light and silhouettes, which feels barely visible and just out of reach, exactly as the film implies it should.  Any more would have made Eastwood’s statement too bold, any less wouldn’t have been visual enough.

Our beliefs in the afterlife affect nearly everything we do in our waking life; our choices, our motivations, our understanding of why right is right and wrong is wrong, and especially the way we react when someone close to us passes.  One scene which really stood out to me was a funeral where one funeral party hadn’t left the parlor before another group was shuffling in, reminding us of the never-ending cycle, the constant passing of life that happens every second of every day.

Most of the film is spent telling the three separate stories, only near the end do the characters come together and affect one another.  Whether those intersections are by chance or by fate, of course, is left for us to decide.

Though no Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby (or Unforgiven, or Gran Torino, or Flags of Our Fathers, or Letters from Iwo Jima…I could go a bit further, but I won’t), the film said a lot about Eastwood himself.  He’s getting older, and with both Gran Torino and Hereafter, he’s losing (purposefully, I would imagine) the intensity and grit of many of the films he’s known for.  He’s also telling the stories, as he always has, that are important to him at this point in his life, concerning the ideas and questions that occupy his mind.  And we, his faithful listeners, are perfectly happy with that.