Is there or is there not an afterlife? That is the question. Throughout the ages mankind has searched for an answer to it, but unfortunately the only ones who know for sure aren’t talking. Of course there are those who say they can communicate with the departed, and there are others who believe it is possible. (I’m not one of them.) For people who are interested in the age-old question, “Hereafter,” directed by Academy Award-winner Clint Eastwood, is a film that examines mortality and the possibility of the afterlife from three different perspectives.
Eastwood is inarguably one of Hollywood’s most treasured icons. Throughout his stellar career the 80-year-old legend has acted in at least 65 films and television series and directed 35 projects. As one who loves movies, I’ve been an Eastwood fan forever, and it has been on very rare occasions that he has either starred in or directed a film that I didn’t particularly like. Therefore, I regret to say that although I certainly respect Eastwood’s direction of “Hereafter,” I found the film to be a bit disappointing.
As the film opens, Marie LeLay (Cecile de France), a famous French television journalist, is vacationing at an exotic beach resort with her lover, and when he shows little interest in shopping for gifts to take to his children, she says she will buy the gifts for him. As she is perusing the shops in the town, a tsunami engulfs the resort and nearly drowns Marie, who has the stereotypical near-death experience complete with the white light and shadowy figures. It is an incident that will plague her for the rest of her life.
Another person who has links to the afterlife is George Lonegan (Matt Damon), who at one time made a very good living doing “readings” for people who wanted to communicate with their deceased loved ones. But George ultimately decides that he wants no part of the medium business and takes a mundane job in an attempt to restore some normalcy to his life.
And in London we meet Marcus and Jason (George and Frankie McLaren), twins whose alcoholic mother often leaves them to fend for themselves. They are constantly lying to Child Protective Services representatives to protect her and to prevent themselves from being taken into custody. One afternoon Jason makes a trip to the drugstore and is killed when a vehicle hits him. Marcus is so bereft the he doesn’t know what to do, and he finally decides to try finding a way to contact his dead brother.
As the film progresses, the three separate stories of Marie, George, and Marcus inevitably move toward each other until they finally merge in a way that some may find satisfying, and others may not because it doesn’t really offer any even speculative answers to the obviously unanswerable question at hand: Is there or is there not an afterlife? In the film’s production notes, Eastwood made a comment that pretty much sums up the nebulous nature of the film.
“We don’t know what’s on the other side, but on this side, it’s final. People have their beliefs about what’s there or what’s not there, but those are all hypotheticals. Nobody knows until you get there.”
All three of the major characters in the film are tortured souls, but the only actor who succeeds in making us care about him is George McLaren, whose quietly effective portrayal of the grieving Marcus will touch your heart because he will make you feel his loss. His is far and away the best performance in the film.
On the other hand, both Damon and de France seem completely uninterested in their respective parts. Damon usually is a dynamic actor, but he brings all the enthusiasm of a somnambulist to the part of George, about whom he offered the following analysis in the production notes.
“George is a very lonely guy. He has, within the last three years, made a big life change because of this ability he has to talk to people that have passed on. It’s something he doesn’t want, that he looks at more as a curse than a gift. It interferes with his ability to be intimate with anybody because of what he experiences when he makes any kind of physical contact with them.”
And Belgian actress de France’s portrayal of Marie also is completely lackluster. She exhibits very little emotion in any of her scenes, and she simply fails to make Marie a character about whom we really care.
The most effective part of the film is the tsunami sequence at the beginning. The special effects are outstanding, and watching that wall of water destroy everything its path makes you fully realize how completely helpless human beings are against the forces of nature.
“Hereafter” (Give it final score of six.) moves painfully slowly in places, and it seemed much longer than its running time of 129 minutes. In fact, at one point I thought I might be in the theater long enough to find out whether or not the afterlife exists. I entered the theater with high hopes because I usually like anything with Eastwood’s name on it, but I am sad to say that this film definitely did not make my day.