Directed by: Clint Eastwood.
Written By: Peter Morgan.
Starring: Matt Damon (George Lonegan), Cécile De France (Marie LeLay), Frankie & George McLaren (Marcus / Jason), Bryce Dallas Howard (Melanie), Thierry Neuvic (Didier), Jay Mohr (Billy), Richard Kind (Christos), Rebekah Staton (Social Worker), Declan Conlon (Social Worker), Derek Jacobi (Himself).
Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter is a movie that seems to be building to something for its entire running time. But then the end of the film comes, and we realize that the film ultimately built to nothing at all. The film isn’t boring, because while I was watching it, I kept waiting for it to break out, to somehow make sense of all the material that it had presented us with, and give us a reason why we were ultimately watching the film in the first place. So when the end credits come, it’s surprising, because Eastwood, and his writer Peter Morgan, are both talented guys – but with Hereafter, what they missed was the reason they were making the film. Walking out of the theater, I had no idea what Eastwood was trying to say with this movie – which is the same thing as saying he says nothing.
The movie opens with a scene completely unlike what we have come to expect from Eastwood – a special effects laden sequence of a tsunami striking the shores of some seemingly tropical paradise (if they said where, I missed it). We have just met Marie LeLay (Cecile De France) and her boyfriend Didier (Thierry Neuvic) a few minutes before, and then we thrust into Marie’s fight for survival on the streets, as she gets swept into the water. As sequences like this go, this is actually fairly well handled by the usually minimalist Eastwood – but it started the film off on a strange note, one more suited for the work of Roland Emmerich than Eastwood. Marie will hugely effected by her near death experience – making it impossible to continue doing her job as a news reporter, as she is more interested in exploring the strange vision she had while dying – the standard issue white light and voices.
Next we meet George Lonegan (Matt Damon), a man who used to be a psychic, and is still living in his home town of San Francisco – was actually quite famous at it – but now makes his living as a factory worker. He hasn’t lost his “gift”; he just sees it as a curse, and wants to live a normal life. He is seemingly getting along okay, until his brother (Jay Mohr) shows up on his door with an important client that really wants a reading. George does it, but again wants to put it all behind him – and is seemingly taking a few tentative steps towards normalcy with a new woman (Bryce Dallas Howard), who soon finds out what he used to do, and once again George’s gift feels more like a curse.
Then there are twins Marcus and Jason (played by real life twins Frankie and George McLaren) living in London. They are around 10, but regularly have to take care of themselves, as their mother is a drug addict. Social workers want to take them away, and with good cause, but when the more assertive of the two brothers is killed in an accident, Marcus is left by himself with nothing but questions about the afterlife.
Eastwood intercuts between these three stories throughout the movie, and they all hold out interest to varying degrees (I found the story of the twins the most fascinating, and Marie’s least, with George somewhere in between). But we know, because we’ve seen movies like this before that the characters are on a collision course – which eventually the three storylines will intersect in one way or another. It is almost inevitability. And of course, they do intersect, but when that comes, it is a huge letdown, because nothing much happens.
I am all for ambiguity in movies – even endings that leave what happens up to the audience (hell I defended John Sayles’ ending to Limbo, which leaves us nothing), but I wouldn’t describe Hereafter’s ending – or anything else for that matter – as ambigious, just anti-climatic. For example, Matt Damon’s character is quite clearly portrayed as being able to communicate with the dead – he never gets anything wrong, and he is far more specific than the type of psychics who do what is known as “cold readings”, where the read the reactions of the people they are reading, and tell them what they want to hear (Eastwood even gives us an example of this in the film). So once we know Damon really does have this gift – and that the film is accepting it on face value – his character becomes far less interesting. The same goes for Marie, who again the movie simply accepts her story at face value, and then moves on. In fact, I would say the only one of the major characters who goes on anything close to approaching a real spiritual journey is Marcus – the surviving twin – who really does try to learn and explore what happens after we die. Both George and Marie don’t really go on journeys – George is simply running away from who he is (an idea the movie seems to embrace) and Marie simply compiling research (which is somewhat infuriating, since we don’t ever actually hear what her damn book is about). Marcus is the only major character who is really all that complex or interesting. I will say that I wish Bryce Dallas Howard had a larger role – she has but a few scenes – as she breathes much needed life into this movie obsessed with death, but the film sees her as just another pawn to move around for its own purposes, and not a real character.
Eastwood is a great director – one of the best currently working in America today. And because he is getting older (he has to be almost 80 at this point), I understand why a movie about death would fascinate him so much. But what drew him to Hereafter? Here is a movie that really does have nothing to say about death, or by extension life. It is one that simply sits there on the screen waiting desperately for something to happen.