“It's a pity we don't know what the little flowers know” - Gordon Bok
Octogenarian Clint Eastwood's Hereafter is an understated but deeply
moving meditation on death and how it affects those left behind.
Congratulations must go to Eastwood for going above and beyond the
conventional to provide a film that is empowering and unforgettable,
one of the finest of his career and one of the best of 2010. It is not
a documentary, nor a European art film. It is a Hollywood product
through and through but one with a difference. Refusing to cater to an
audience that thrives on chaos and gore, Hereafter is a quiet and
slow-paced film that treats every character, even the most flawed, with
respect as a three-dimensional human being, not as an object used to
bring in box office receipts.
Based on a screenplay by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen), the
subject matter deals with death but it is not maudlin in the slightest.
Unlike films such as What Dreams May Come and The Lovely Bones, it is a
reality-based film without colorful special effects mirroring popular
conceptions of what heaven is all about. While some may not agree with
its focus on spiritual mediums, Eastwood still allows us to share the
pain of those who have lost a loved one and their experience that there
is another dimension that transcends our five senses.
Hereafter tells three stories. In the opening sequence, French
journalist and TV personality Marie Lelay played by the outstanding
French actress Cecile de France, is vacationing in a beach resort in
Indonesia with her producer and boyfriend Didier (Thierry Neuvic) when
she is caught in a raging tsunami that uproots buildings and trees and
sweeps hundreds to their death. She suffers a concussion and has a
near-death experience that transports her to a world of light, one that
exists outside of space and time where she feels weightless and has
visions of others crossing over after the storm.
As a result of her experience, however, she is unable to focus when she
returns to work and is compelled to take time off from broadcasting to
write a biography of French politician Francois Mitterrand. What she
really wants do, however, is to write a book about her near-death
visions. She journeys to Europe to meet with the director of a hospice
(Marthe Keller) who has documented many cases in which her patients
have seen the other side. Her voyage is a lonely one, however, as her
boyfriend rejects her experience as fantasy and publishers look askance
at a draft of her book about life after death.
In the second story, George Lonegan, played by Matt Damon in one of his
best performances, is a blue-collar worker living in San Francisco who
has an unusual gift. Like spiritual mediums John Edward and James Van
Praagh, he has the ability to make connections with and communicate
messages from the dead. George has not done any readings for three
years because he says that "a life that's all about death is no life at
all," and considers his talent to be a curse rather than a gift.
Though his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) keeps pressing him to return to
doing readings, George refuses, but finally agrees to do one last
reading for a client of his brother. When he is laid off from his job,
however, he takes an Italian cooking class and meets Melanie (Bryce
Dallas Howard), who hides her pain beneath a bubbly exterior. When she
presses him to do a reading, he agrees but it brings back unpleasant
memories for both participants and seems to validate all of his
In the third sequence, in one of the most affecting child performances
that I can remember, twin brothers Jason (George McLaren) and Marcus
(Frankie McLaren) live with their mother, Jackie (Lyndsey Marshal) in a
London apartment. Though she loves the boys, she is addicted to drugs
and is being monitored by child welfare. Jason is older by twelve
minutes and is the most talkative while Marcus is quiet and withdrawn.
When a sudden tragedy takes place, Marcus is sent to a foster home to
try and provide a normal upbringing. The boy is obsessed with one
thing, however, and that is making contact with the spirit world. In
the film's only misstep, he goes to a variety of psychics who are shown
as laughable charlatans instead of serious but perhaps flawed
practitioners. Undaunted, he keeps up his quest, refusing to give up
until he can achieve his goal of communicating with the
While we sense that the threads will come together, to say as some
critics have done that the stories are pulled together in “a silly set
of contrived coincidences” overlooks one of the key messages of the
film, that synchronicity does exist, that we are all connected, and
that things happen for a reason. Backed by a serenely beautiful score
composed by Eastwood, the film is emotional and had me in tears, yet it
is honest emotion that carefully avoids melodrama and sentimentality.
Hereafter is not a perfect film and there are enough critics around to
remind us of that. Yet the fact that this film was even made gives me
hope that amidst the lunacy of today's world, the sense is growing
slowly, in the song of Gordon Bok, that while “it's so easy in the cold
to feel the darkness of the year, the world indeed may be “turning
towards the morning”.