“Hereafter” surprisingly insipid


The Fountain and Sunshine are two films that tend to receive some of the most vitriolic commentary, eliciting praise or hate.  What they also have in common is their mutual exploration of what it means to die: Sunshine, “We’re all stardust” and The Fountain, “Death is the road to awe.”  Clint Eastwood isn’t having any of that shit though: in Hereafter, death leads to romantic comedy vapidity.

The film focuses on three different people who are coping with death in various forms: Marie, a French reporter who is almost killed in a tsunami; George (Matt Damon), a psychic whose Peter Parker angst means he doesn’t want his psychic “gift;” and Marcus, who is failing to deal with the death of his twin brother.

The best part of Hereafter is Matt Damon’s portrayal of this beleaguered psychic who just wants a normal life.  Given that George’s abilities freak people out, he’s had a hard time making it with the ladies. When George meets Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) at a cooking course, their chemistry is infectious; during their second meeting the film reaches its highest peak, and Damon and Howard’s interactions have you holding your breath in anticipation.  “Stand back folks!  This acting!” – and a damn fine example of it.  A simple food sampling becomes saturated with romantic and sexual tension thanks to their prowess and Eastwood’s framing, both of which are only topped by the way the evening ends for the couple.

Damon’s story and some solid character development pieces get the film off to a good start, but unfortunately it fails to make it to the finish line.  The film is trying to tackle the greatest of human quandaries and is unable to deliver a meaningful answer.  Without a proper response, the film turns into a romantic comedy cliché which cheapens the first 2/3 of the film, and in some ways those who are coping with death in the real world.

(This film isn’t the most plot driven tale, but just in case)
SPOILER ALERT, SKIP PARAGRAPHS

The film closes with Marcus receiving a psychic reading from George, which allows him to move on from his brother’s death.  Given George’s intimacy issues stemming from his abilities, it’s quite fortuitous that Marie, too, knows all about the afterlife.  When George and Marie sit down to have a proper date, romantic string music blares so you know everything’s going to be okay.

The ending suggests that the sole purpose of Marcus is to lead George to Marie, and Marie’s near-death experience to make her compatible with George.  Not including the death of Marcus’ brother, thousands died in the tsunami Marie survived; does this mean they all died just so George wouldn’t be lonely?  Even if we don’t go that far, the ending leaves Marcus and Marie as cardboard creatures in some romantic drivel.

SPOILERS OVER

Without any interesting answers, Eastwood glosses over the painfulness of loss with overwrought clichés and hints that it’s all part of God’s plan as these characters just happen to meet.  Setting up these separate tales revolving around the same subject matter undermines any dramatic payoff as we anticipate the event we know will connect them.  Thus, in message and format, Hereafter is too simple and insulting.  Throw in a few moments where Clint Eastwood Marie hops on her soap box to pontificate the “scientific evidence” about the afterlife, and the film has become an alienating mess.

Matt Damon’s great and a film dedicated to his character would have been enticing – too bad.

*Just as an FYI, I don’t inherently dislike Eastwood’s work.  You might want to check out my essay “Why is Clint Eastwood Performing Penance?”

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One response to ““Hereafter” surprisingly insipid

  1. Saw your link post on IMDB and gave this a read.

    Definitely a different take on the movie than I had.

    SPOILERS AHEAD BEWARE!

    I don’t think everything happened in the movie to make George happy. I think that every character pursued what they wanted even when others told them not to and because of it they got happiness in the end.

    Marcus wanted to find Jake and first he did but he was dead and so then he continued to search for him in the afterlife. He never gave up and finally he got to talk to Jake and say goodbye. He also didn’t give up on his mom and his mom didn’t give up on herself so they got to see each other again and maybe potentially live with each other again in the future.

    Marie wanted to write about her vision of the afterlife and everyone told her not to. She did it anyway and she eventually got her book published which led to her meeting George.

    George wanted to get away from his psychic business and even when he lost his job he still decided not to go back and do it and finally went and did something for himself. He pursued the things he wanted for once and in the end he got what he wanted in a relationship with someone who won’t run away from him because of his power.

    So for me the movie was about never giving up and pursuing what ever it is that makes you happy.

    Also, I didn’t feel Eastwood was even addressing any big questions about the afterlife with this movie. From the trailers one might think that he would, but the movie to me wasn’t about what the afterlife was. Sure, they showed an interpretation of it, but it was very quick images and very vague and I think that was intentional so as not to really address any big questions there. The movie was really about these characters’ lives. The afterlife is just what happened to connect their lives together.

    So that’s my take. I just enjoy any movie that gets a conversation going. This one seems to be getting a whole lot of different opinions. People in my theater stood up and loudly proclaimed this to be “the worst movie ever!” for one.

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