As the creatures recognizing the uncertainty and finality of life, we human beings have been trying to get some glimpse into something we will probably be never sure about unless we come into it for ourselves. In case of future, you will surely know what will happen, but it won’t be future to you then. In case of hereafter, you will indeed get the answer you want, but then it will no longer matter to you because you will be not in our world any more around that time you cross the line.
Clint Eastwood’s new film “Hereafter” neither accepts nor denies the life after death, and that is a wise choice. Despite the supernatural elements in the story, the movie does not attempt to force us to believe what its characters believe. By dealing with its sensitive subject in a calm, honest, and thoughtful way, it sincerely shows us how their lives influenced by death are led by what they feel and believe. There are some questions and doubts left when the movie is over, but who can answer them?
My first question: is Geroge Lonegan(Matt Damon) really a psychic, who can see and communicate with the dead associated with the people he touches? Maybe he is just as instinctively talented as your average psychics you have come across in your life. But he looks pretty much convincing when he reluctantly shows his gift to others. He does believe his gift, but it can be said that what he sees and hears is just the aftereffect on his nervous system after the surgery in his childhood. But he is too correct to disbelieve. What he says to them really affects them emotionally in each case, but does it really come from the dead and their world?
Anyway, his gift is more like the curse to him, and he has been tired of “the life full of death”. He once made some money through his gift, but now he gives it up, and he try to lead a quiet life alone in the city. But the life is still not so comfortable to him. There are people who want his service, and his brother tries to convince him to start their supernatural business again. He begins to like the girl he meets at the cooking class, but soon she becomes curious about his gift – a bad sign for their relationship.
We are also not so sure about what a French TV anchor Marie Lelay(Cécile De France) experiences during her vacation in Thailand when the tsunami devastatingly sweeps everything in the shore region along with her. In her near-death experience, she indeed saw something, but is it just a temporal vision created by her brain, based on what she(and we) often heard about? Still shaken by that experience when she comes back to Paris, she decides to quit her job and, for a book she’s going to write, she delves more into what interests her after that experience.
In London, the third main character is also trying to find the similar answer. He is a young boy named Marcus, who recently loses his twin brother Jason(Both are played by twin child actors Frankie and George McLaren). Jason has been more than a big brother to Marcus at their problematic household, and, now in foster care, Marcus desperately wants to find a way to contact with his diseased brother for he somehow feels the unseen presence of his brother nearby him – but it may be caused by his grief.
Needless to say, their paths are bound to converge at some point, but the screenplay writer Peter Morgan handles their storylines in rather effortless way. Their journeys for the answer are more important than the unobtainable answer itself in his story, and its dramatic power plainly comes from how they struggle in their respective lives. Although he was inspired by the book “Before I Say Goodbye” to write his original screenplay, as he admitted in the interviews, Morgan does not believe in hereafter; he firmly maintains his skeptic view on the subject with the amusing but sad sequence where Marcus is quietly frustrated by a series of “experts”.
Clint Eastwood is the last director you can imagine for this film(I know it’s cliche, but, when I read the synopsis, I instantly thought of M. Night Shyamalan). As the director drawn by the producer Steven Spielberg, with whom he worked before in “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”, Eastwood does as little as possible in the movie with his restrained, succinct storytelling style. Like Morgan, he adheres to the objective view on the matter while respecting the characters in the movie. There is a crucial scene near the ending when George’s gift is used again, but you are not even sure about whether it is, if it exists, really used. Eastwood only observes them, not answering that for us.
The casting is excellent. Matt Damon is good as an introverted man haunted and exhausted by the gift he does not want at all. He holds our attention immediately due to his star status, but, with his engagingly understated performance, he provides the space for other lesser-known performers, who are also as low-key and emotionally effective as him.
As you might guess from my questions sprinkled throughout the review, I am as skeptical as Morgan and Eastwood about their subject, as a biology major. My view may be far colder than theirs; I sometimes think we are no more than the machines organically made of flesh and bones that can be maintained for around 100 years in the best conditions. Death is probably nothing more than the switch getting turned off. I will probably ask and rebut the characters a lot, but “Hereafter” is a thoughtful and heartfelt movie that makes me understand them and care about them. That’s what good movies usually do to me and other audiences.
Sidenote: The movie was surprisingly nominated for Oscar for its special effects in this year, but please don’t expect anything spectacular. It is effective as shown in the tsunami sequence, but that is only a small part of the movie. Recently, the movie was pulled down from the theaters in Japan for the understandable reason, and that sequence reminded me that, as one of my friends said, the real disasters look quite messier compared to the ones depicted in the movies.