Monday, February 7, 2011


"The evidence is irrefutable" one atheist (or previously atheist) scientist tells Cecile de France's character in Hereafter. She's referring to the idea of an afterlife. Actually, it's not just an idea--it's a very specific place where out of focus and shadowy dead people float around against a white background in a dimension completely separate from time and space. Near death experiences can give the living VIP access to the spirit world, which is why de France's Marie Lelay, an investigative reporter and television host, is so interested--she nearly died in the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia a few months earlier. But even Marie, who's a big deal in the reporting world, can't bring this important issue to light, and when she presents her prestigious publishing agency with the cold, hard facts, they look at her as if she's gone off her meds. Oh no! It's a conspiracy of silence to keep the truth from reaching the public. Damn those cynics, how can they let their prejudices obfuscate reason!

Wait a minute... I think I see what Peter Morgan (screenwriter) and Clint Eastwood (director) are doing there. Of course, I'm willing to let movies play tricks on me up to a certain point, to let them dictate their own reason in the interest of a good story, but the introduction of scientific "proof" seems like a rather facile way to get me to believe in something I had no intention in believing in. Yes, Hereafter is about other things (death, life, Charles Dickens) but it sure invests a lot of effort, and precious little uncertainty, into creating a very concrete spirit world. I was willing to play along, but Hereafter tested my patience with all its wishy washy spirituality.

Marie isn't the only one searching for meaning and reason in death. There's also George Lonegan (Matt Damon), a psychic who tries to shirk his responsibilities as a communicator with the dead. He just wants to live a normal life, one that's not consumed by death, but people keep coming up to him in tears asking him to help them talk to their departed brothers, husbands, wives, and sons. And then there's Marcus, a sad little boy, who's just lost his twin brother, and who's in foster care while his mother seeks treatment for her heroin addiction. He's a bit of a modern day take on one of Dickens' orphans. Coincidentally, Dickens is one of George's favorite authors and the reason he visits London. And Marie is going to London to try to publicize her book. If only they could somehow meet each other.

Any problems with this movie lie not with Clint Eastwood's lucidity (i.e he's not an old man who's off his rocker). He's delivered a competently crafted and well acted film with a good amount of sincerity. And even if the movie is too sentimental, it's not as sentimental as it could have been--it still has a brain and a pulse. We should be grateful as well, that God and Jesus and theology weren't thrown into the mix. But the supposedly easily digestible New-Age spirituality just doesn't go down easily. Maybe I'm just too cynical to acknowledge the truth. Then again, I would like to point to the fact that, asides from the dreadful CGI tsunami that opens the movie, Hereafter doesn't seem to have made a very big splash anywhere. A conspiracy of silence I tell you!


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