Movie Review: Hereafter (2010)

Humanitarian exploration of afterlife ___ 9/10
Review by Brian Wright

HereafterDirected by Clint Eastwood
Written by Peter Morgan

On the surface, Hereafter is a fairly straightforward story of two individuals—George Lonegan (Matt Damon) and Marie LeLay (Cécile De France)—who have near-death experiences that result in special understanding that seemingly drives them toward each other across the continents. But their internal struggles with having a unique ability to ‘see in the world of the dead,’ the characters with whom they pass through their lives, and strangers who are drawn to them—particularly to Lonegan, who has reluctantly spent some time in the psychic market—make the film a complex tapestry of, usually benign, behavior.

Matt Damon … George Lonegan
Cécile De France … Marie Lelay
Thierry Neuvic … Didier
Lisa Griffiths … Stall Owner
Jessica Griffiths … Island Girl
Jay Mohr … Billy
Richard Kind … Christos
Frankie McLaren … Marcus/Jason
Bryce Dallas Howard … Melanie
Derek Jacobi … Himself
Marthe Keller … Dr. Rousseau

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Dr. Rousseau: As a scientist and atheist my mind was closed to such things. Oh, absolutely. Afterlife, near-death experiences. As everyone else, I thought people saw bright lights, Eden-like gardens and so forth because they were culturally conditioned to do so. But after 25 years in a hospice working with people, many of whom were pronounced dead but then miraculously survived, the accounts of what they experienced were so strikingly similar it couldn’t just be coincidence. And add to that the fact that when they had these experiences they were almost all unconscious, a state in which my opponents agree the brain cannot create fresh images.
Marie Lelay: So you think I really did experience something?
Dr. Rousseau: Oh, yes. I think you experienced death.

Director Eastwood, in a February 2010 interview with the UK’s Daily Telegraph, had this to say about Hereafter (shipped to theaters under the title Heaven’s Playground): “It’s a movie about ‘coming together’… three different stories with people who have gone through some sort of stressful time and it’s about how they sort of converge together. Much like a lot of French movies have been in the past, where the stories kind of converge together, and destiny drives each person towards the other.”

On the surface, Hereafter is a fairly straightforward story of two individuals—George Lonegan (Matt Damon) and Marie LeLay (Cécile De France)—who have near-death experiences that result in special understanding that seemingly drives them toward each other across the continents. But their internal struggles with having a unique ability to ‘see in the world of the dead,’ the characters with whom they pass through their lives, and strangers who are drawn to them—particularly to Lonegan, who has reluctantly spent some time in the psychic market—make the film a complex tapestry of, usually benign, behavior.

The screenwriter’s profile shows Peter Morgan to have a tendency ‘to write screenplays based on real characters and events.’ One wonders whether the storyline and plot also have a basis in fact. The subject of those who can see into the afterlife is naturally appealing to mortals: Who among the good souls wouldn’t be encouraged if death turned out to be more than black hole, rather an eternal holding pattern for our flights of wonder? Sites abound on the Web, this one, Near Death Experience Research Foundation, appears to be authentic; near-death is a certainty. But what about death-death? The convention seems to be if you came back to life, you cannot have been dead-dead, only near-dead.

The quotation from Dr. Rousseau above also has a quality of nonfiction. In the movie, Marie, is a well-known French national journalist who has returned from Bali after surviving a tsunami. She attempts to describe her experience and the continuation of visions she’s getting, the reality of seeing beyond the grave. But no one believes her; she starts slipping in her work, relationships sour, a book deal falls apart. So she embarks on a mission to discover if what happened to her is real or if she’s going crazy. It’s her visit to the hospice and talk with Dr. Rousseau (Marthe Keller) that turns her life around… she decides to write a new book, one to fight the strange nearly universal prejudice against ‘afterlifers.’

The writer and Eastwood as director have a great manner of capturing the actual ‘connections’ events of Lonegan and Lelay, with a sweep of sound and images that come on like ramming a giant plug into a high-voltage socket. Nothing subtle. You also realize that not every connection with the world of the passed works wonders for the one seeking resolution; some hookups bring up sore, painful subjects.

Lonegan, a warehouse worker in San Francisco, has a history with the ‘gift’ that extends back to his teen years when he was afflicted with a spinal disease and lay for minutes on the operating table without pulse or respiration. From that point on he could see into the realm of the dead and bring their sentiments to the living. His brother Billy (Jay Mohr) saw an opportunity to use this gift to ‘do good and make a few bucks.’ George was always reluctant, and using his powers commercially caused him a lot of psychological problems. Still he became well known and sought out, he was performing a real service, nothing fake about it, his customers were generally very grateful.

As the movie starts Lonegan is doing his best to get on with his life

Then the third thread of the tapestry stems from London, England, a boy from a troubled home losing someone special. That boy (Frankie McLaren), to assuage his pain, seeks out on the Internet all the well-known ones who claim the ability to see in the other worlds. He wants word from his lost one, confirmation that Frankie will get by. Young Frankie runs away from his foster home to personally check out some of the seers. This is a very interesting segment: he finds the overwhelming majority of these would-be communicators of the afterlife are frauds and delusions. [Lonegan and Lelay are of course tarred with the same brush as these charlatans, diamonds in the rough.]

The little boy is the final piece of the puzzle, the element that catalyzes the resolution… if you don’t count Charles Dickens. Lonegan is a huge Dickens fan, which we discover early while he’s trying to pick up the pieces and get into normal relationships. Eastwood’s movies usually provide ideas or personages that cry out to be checked out: Hereafter gives us the idea world of near-death/afterlife and the person-world of Mr. Dickens. So how many of us have actually read Dickens aside from a semester of English lit in high school (if we weren’t lucky)? I’ll bet few. He’s on my list now.

I think everyone will find Hereafter a breath of fresh air and hope. You’ll be amazed at the quality of performances from the nonstar actors, and how many characters there are. The special effects are extraordinary, as well. A special movie that warrants multiple viewings.

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