I can’t quite say I think Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter is good—I certainly don’t think it’s the masterpiece his fiercer worshippers seem to think it is—but I do think it’s one of the most interesting films of his career, and that of screenwriter Peter Morgan. It’s one thing for artists to step outside their comfort zone; it’s something else for them to step outside their belief zone. That’s the case here, since apparently neither Eastwood nor Morgan—if reports are to be believed—buy into their own movie’s supernatural premise.
If Hereafter were a thriller, I’d understand that, but it’s not a thriller. This is a drama about what happens when we die. While I can understand how they might be fascinated by the topic without themselves buying into the idea of an afterlife, it’s odd that they’ve made a movie that takes the existence of an afterlife at face value. In the end, I’m left wondering how seriously I should take the whole thing if the guys who made it don’t.
Objectivity? Well, that would be a more reasonable answer if the movie didn’t accept every soft-focus, gauzy image of dead folks in transition that comes along without question. But the movie does accept them—as it similarly accepts the mediumistic powers of George Lonegan (Matt Damon) as “the goods.” The closest Hereafter comes to objectivity is its refusal to ascribe a meaning to any of this. The movie gives religion short shrift—it’s brought up twice in the film, and in an unflattering manner on both occasions.
The story line—or story lines, since there are three people who finally and somewhat peculiarly connect—starts off with French journalist Marie LeLay (Cécile De France) having an out-of-body experience when she begins to drown in a tsunami. (You can’t fault the film for a reasonably exciting opening.) Inexplicably returning from the out-of-body business—which is disappointingly mundane in its depiction—Marie rejoins the living, but finds herself changed. Her interests are no longer so much political as they are obsessively mystical.
Meanwhile, retired psychic George Lonegan is finding life tricky—despite the fact that he’s one of those folks of which fiction is filled: the reluctant psychic, who constantly whines that this “isn’t a gift, it’s a curse.” His venal brother (Jay Mohr, Street Kings) is keen on cashing in on him, and George’s efforts to have a normal life never catch a break. A brief encounter with relationship-hungry Melanie (an alarming Bryce Dallas Howard), his cooking-class partner, dies quickly when she insists he give her a reading and doesn’t like the results. Then he finds his blue-collar job gone. It looks like it might be the psychic route with his brother—but at the last minute, George hops it to Great Britain so he can indulge his passion for Charles Dickens.
Now, while all this is going on, there’s the third leg of the story involving a pair of extremely close twin boys, Marcus (Frankie McLaren) and Jason (George McLaren), one of whom—Jason—is killed in an accident. This sends Marcus into an antisocial tailspin of morbidity, which is exacerbated by the fact that mum (Brit TV actress Lyndsey Marshal) is a junkie in need of rehab, thereby plopping him into a foster home. Marcus does everything he can to establish contact with his dearly departed brother, which sends him through a series of encounters with charlatans and pious gasbags (both in real life and on the Internet). Of course, who he needs is George Lonegan, who in turn needs Marie LeLay. Considering how the movie is constructed, it’s hardly surprising to see what happens—though I guess the pointless guest gig for Derek Jacobi (as himself) adds color.
The movie is interesting, though it’s built on way too many coincidences to seem like anything other than a very contrived construction. I’d even say the film is entertaining, which is mostly to say that it held my interest for its unnecessary length. But when it got to the end, it seemed like a lot of effort for not much payoff. And the point? Well, much like what happens after death—or at least after meandering in weightless soft-focus limbo—that remains a mystery. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language.