Tuesday, October 12, 2010

“Hereafter” – Movie Review


Monday night, my movie class held an unprecedented weeknight bonus screening of the drama "Hereafter", which had the distinction of closing this year's New York Film Festival.  The film stars Matt Damon and was directed by Clint Eastwood (who also produced and wrote/performed some of the soundtrack, as he has done on some of his past movies). 


When three people are strongly influenced by death, their lives are forever transformed.


While on vacation in some tropical paradise with her boyfriend, Marie (Cécile De France) makes a fateful decision to venture into town one fine morning to purchase some gifts when the entire area is engulfed in a tsunami.  Wreaking damage and death everywhere, it appears Marie has been taken as one of its victims – or has she?  Unconscious and faint of pulse for a prolonged period of time, she is eventually revived by some locals who have somehow managed to fish her out of the water.  Upon returning to her job as a broadcast journalist in Paris, she now finds that this near-death experience has permanently altered her view of life and the world. 

Meanwhile, George Lonegan (Damon) is struggling to put behind him his former profession as a famous and successful psychic who gained notoriety for being able to help his clients make contact with friends and family who have passed away.  Working as a forklift operator for the past three years, he has forsaken his profession as he believes, “a life about death is no life at all”.  Right now, his main goal is simply to try to figure out how to live his life in some manner that is as close to normal as is humanly possible.  Unfortunately, this proves even more difficult since he is strongly urged to resume his original career path at the behest of his older brother Billy (Jay Mohr). 

Concurrently, Marcus & Jason (Frankie & George McLaren) are two identical twin schoolboys growing up just outside of London.  Theirs is not an easy childhood as they are forced into adult responsibilities all too soon because their mother is a drug addict who is constantly being hounded by inspectors from Social Services to ensure that the boys are being taken care of properly.  Tragically, Marcus’ world is turned into a massive state of upheaval when his brother Jason is killed as the result of an automobile accident; with his twin now gone, he is taken away from his mother and forced to live with foster parents. 

Ultimately, the three lives converge in, of all places, The London Book Fair.  George decides to attend the event when he’s laid off from his blue collar job and decides to take some time off before pursuing another path; as a big fan of the legendary Charles Dickens, he goes to hear a reading of the author’s work.  By now, Marie is an author herself, having recently written a book about her near-death experience and the possibility of an afterlife; as a result, her publisher has her attend the book fair as a promotional opportunity.  Marcus is there only because his foster parents drag him along to meet their grown son, who’s currently working security for the fair.   But once the three lives intersect, what impact will this meeting have on them all?


While I wouldn’t necessarily classify this movie as devoutly religious by any means, it’s certainly deeply spiritual, at the very least.  Clearly, there exists the belief by the filmmakers that an afterlife not only does exist, but that it is knowable on a human level.  As with any movie, your own personal life experiences will greatly impact how you receive this story.  Suffice it to say that for someone non-religious like myself, it was great entertainment – which is in no way a criticism, despite the fact that Eastwood is clearly aiming at something cerebral here.  For others who cling to religion or believe in psychic powers, there may very well be a much stronger reaction to this film. 

The majority of the class liked this movie quite a good deal and I would tend to agree with them.  On a personal level, I found that you don’t necessarily have to buy into this whole belief system that the movie touts in order to enjoy the story – as I said, you can either come away from this feeling greatly entertained or deeply moved, depending on the world view and personal experiences you bring into this viewing in the first place.  Don’t be misled into thinking that this is Eastwood’s attempt at a ghost story or that he’s getting on his soapbox to convert everyone.  Instead, it’s merely a question posed and some answers suggested.  There’s definitely some objectivity to the telling as the story does show a few rather unctuous con artists who gladly wish to defraud mourners out of their money during their emotionally weakened state. 

Should you see this movie?  I would definitely recommend it, but of course the caveat here is that depending on your background and whatever personal baggage you may bring to it, you could either find it incredibly uplifting or balefully disturbing.  Take your pick.  However, I would suggest that if you do see it, try to go with a few friends as this movie will certainly have you wanting to continue a discussion of the topic long after the movie’s over.  Eastwood has definitely knocked another one out of the park with this flick – he seems to be able to surprise us yet again with one more stunning, thoughtful, provocative movie after another.  Go see it and make up your own mind – you’ll either be changed or more resolute in your beliefs, whatever they may be.

Some familiar faces to look out for in this movie include Richard Kind (as Damon’s client) Derek Jacobi (conducting the Dickens reading), Marthe Keller (a doctor running a hospice) and Steve Schirripa (AKA, Bobby Baccala from HBO’s “The Sopranos”.  Apparently, there were quite a few “Sopranos” fans at this screening because there was quite the audible reaction when he first appeared on screen).