Oct 22 2010
Jonathan Kim is an independent film critic who writes and produces film reviews for Uprising and other outlets. He is a former co-producer at Brave New Films.
America is a famously youth-obsessed culture, with our penchant for plastic surgery, botox, rejuvenating cosmetics, fresh-faced celebrities, and radical diets and workouts to retain our youthful figures. But the flipside is that we seem curiously reluctant to confront the reality of that most universal of life experiences, death, a topic that director Clint Eastwood examines through three characters in three countries in his moving new film, Hereafter.
Cécile de France plays Marie, a French TV journalist who, in the film’s stunning opening, is caught in the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, where she dies briefly and is given a glimpse of the afterlife before being revived. Transformed by what has happened and unable to concentrate at work, she decides to take time off to write a book to share her near-death experience and her insights into what happens when we die, two topics that make her publishers queasy.
In San Francisco, George, played by an understated Matt Damon, is grappling with his own relationship with the afterlife. George has the ability to communicate with the dead loved ones of whomever he touches. But after a stint as a psychic, George could no longer handle being immersed in his clients’ painful pasts and retreated to a solitary life as a warehouse worker.
The film’s third story follows Marcus, a quiet British boy who loses his more vocal twin brother and is taken in by foster parents while his mother attempts to kick her drug habit. Unable to come to grips with his loss, Marcus, played by real-life twins Frankie and George McLaren, attempts to contact his brother through psychics of varying authenticity.
So in Hereafter, we have three characters dealing with three different aspects of death and loss. George understands that knowing the intimate details of someone’s past will doom any possible future with them, especially a romantic one. Marcus, who is scarcely old enough to have a past, is unable to accept that such an important person in his life has been relegated to it and is desperately searching for alternatives. While Marie, knowing that a world awaits on the other side of death, is frustrated by people’s reluctance to embrace the afterlife as their inevitable future.
I appreciate and respect the fact that Eastwood, someone known throughout the world as a distinctly American director, has taken on this subject, and as an atheist, I also appreciated that none of the characters in Hereafter discusses the afterlife in religious terms, which, predictably, has angered some religious people. But the point of Hereafter isn’t whose idea of the afterlife is the correct one, but that any afterlife exists at all, and how that might inform how we live our lives.
Hereafter is beautifully shot with an original score by Eastwood, and though the film runs long at over two hours, the pacing fits the film’s contemplative mood.
A common theme in Eastwood’s earlier films is revenge, a decidedly violent way of dealing with one’s past. But in Hereafter, with Eastwood at the age of 80, we find him taking a quieter, more thoughtful look at the past by examining mortality, the moment when we all inevitably become part of someone else’s past. And how we allow that past to affect us, whether you believe in an afterlife or not, is something only the living can decide.
Hereafter is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.