Monday, October 25, 2010

The Sweet Hereafter

As we all do, the three main characters of Hereafter must deal with death. Their circumstances and journeys are all wildly different but they all have the same question. Is there anything after death and how do we deal and connect with it while we're still alive?

The way I felt after seeing the Clint Eastwood directed Hereafter reminded me of the way I felt after seeing Knowing. Don't worry, the world doesn't end in Hereafter like it did in Knowing. Oh, sorry. SPOILER ALERT: the world doesn't end in Hereafter like it did in Knowing. My feelings about Knowing were so mixed up that I had to devote two articles (here and here) to try to figure out for myself how I felt about it and it looks like I'm going to have the same problem with Hereafter. Unlike the marketing that makes you think it's a rip-roaring ghost story, it's a low-key movie that takes its time dealing people who are trying to find answers that haven't truly and satisfyingly been found since human history began. There do seem to be some ghosts though you never actually see them and they do very little. This movie is about the living.

First you meet a lovely French journalist named Marie LeLay (C├ęcile De France). She and her producer/boyfriend had the bad luck to visit Indonesia when it was hit by a tsunami that killed over 100,000 people. The boyfriend, Didier, was lucky enough to be several floors up in a luxury hotel when it happened. Marie, however, was on the ground in an open air street market when the ocean rose up and over her. She was one of the lucky ones, though. She was fished out of the water after she stopped breathing and was given CPR by two men whose names she never even knew. But when she did stop breathing, when she was dead, she saw things that included the little girl whose life she had tried to save. She goes home to Paris where her near death experience renders her increasingly unable to live as she did before.

In London, you meet 10 year old twin boys named Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren). They lead sad lives with a drug addict mother but they also fight hard against the efforts of Social Services to take them away. Jason dies when bullies chase him into the street and he gets hit by a car. Marcus wears the hat that allowed the world to tell them apart. He loses the hat in a tube station and misses the train while trying to get it back. This act saves his life as the train was blown up in a terrorist bombing and he becomes starts exploring ways to talk to Jason on the other side. This leads him from one person to another claiming knowledge of the afterlife and the ability to speak to the dead. Some of them probably think they really can talk to the dead, some are out and out quacks but none can give Marcus what he wants. For that, he finally goes to George Lonegan (Matt Damon).

George works in a sugar processing plant in San Francisco. He doesn't make much and even that meager income is in danger of disappearing when rumors emerge that the plant is about to lay people off. He really wants to keep this job since his best option after that is to go back to his old way of making a living, that being as a psychic medium. When he was young, George had encephalitis. When he recovered, he found he couldn't touch people without seeing and hearing their dead relatives. He became a very successful psychic until he just couldn't handle it anymore and quit, much to the chagrin of his brother (Jay Mohr) who is insensitive to George's pain and is always pressuring him to get back in that business. George's plight is dramatized when a potential relationship with Melanie, a woman he met in a cooking class (Bryce Dallas Howard), is destroyed because she thought it would be cool to have him contact her dead relatives and she finds out the hard way that it's not. Maybe she didn't think he was real but he told her something horrible about her past and it devastated her.

Random acts of luck, both good and bad, play a crucial role in this story. Bad luck leads them all into their bad situations. They really need to meet each other yet they live don't even live in the same country and it's only a stroke or two of good luck that makes that happen. There's really no indication that it was beings from the Great Beyond that made that happen. This isn't Ghost Whisperer. There's only one instance where one of the dead manages to directly intervene in the affairs of the living and even the good consequences of that were more a matter of luck. One of the best things about this movie is that it feels real even though it deals with the supernatural.

It's not a horror movie. Nothing monstrous comes jumping out of the shadows and you never see a ghost except in glimpses of the next world. As I said, this movie is about the living and how we deal with death. It's about how we need to believe that we go on and how we never really get an answer. Many will say that they firmly believe we do yet even they who claim supreme faith that our souls go to paradise are devastated when their loved ones die or when they face death themselves. This movie doesn't offer easy answers and it's not about that. It's about three people trying to heal from their various experiences with death. As I did with Knowing, I at first came away thinking that the film was unsatisfactory yet my mind keeps going back to it, going over scenes and moments again and again. I don't think it's for everybody but I would recommend that everybody see it anyway as the more I think about it, the more it fascinates me.

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