Simply stated, Clint Eastwood’s 2010 film Hereafter is “a drama centered on three people — a blue-collar American, a French journalist, and a London school boy — who are touched by death in different ways” (Internet Movie Database). There is really little more to go on other than word that Hereafter is a departure from Eastwood’s previous films. After seeing the film, I couldn’t say; nor do some of the reviews I read afterward (namely Ebert and Scott, see below).
Once Hereafter finished playing Sean and I looked at each other with that raised brow of “well?.” Sean’s conclusion as to the question of whether it seemed an Eastwood film? The music was a dead give away, referencing Gran Torino (2008). If he hadn’t known this was an Eastwood film (or that Eastwood was in charge of the Music), Sean felt confident he would have known–and he would. Next, Eastwood tends to develop only 4-5 characters; he meanders into a snug ending; he does not flinch from tragic images, both its perpetration and after effect. These are all brilliant aspects to Eastwood’s films, by the way, and wonderfully applied to Hereafter.
The “blue-collar American” is George Lonegan who is able to see into the ‘hereafter,’ a psychic power that is primarily enabled by the touch of another person. He was making a fair amount of money, but found it taking a toll on him emotionally and socially. He was tired of being a freak and longed for a normal life–in construction.
The “French Journalist,” Marie Lelay played by Cécile De France is at first just a woman on vacation in Thailand who suffers a shocking traumatic event. I was in tears for the first part of the film, Marie’s part; so off my guard and moved by the horrors of a familiar world event. Go ahead and brace yourself if you have yet to see the film, but Eastwood is quite adept at what he does. It should be needless to say that her life has been changed, but she longs for it to not to have affected her in the ways it did–she risks losing everything, or does she?
The “London Schoolboy” is a fairly heartbreaking other cord in the story. George/Frankie McLaren as Marcus/Jason played their parts impressively. The strength of the storyline really depends on the strength of these child actors, and Eastwood gets the best possible play. What sometimes seems impassive on the boy’s face is the stillness of his consideration. He weighs everything and is incredibly determined, coming into his own quietly amidst well-imagined pain.
We are asked to imagine what it would be like to inhabit each of these character’s lives; each one living one part in the ‘hereafter’ and one part in the present, inside their own corporeal bodies. They still have lives moving forward on the plane and time in which they have inhabited since birth, but their mind’s eye is elsewhere. Marie is encouraged to use her time to heal as an opportunity to work on a book she’d always thought to do. We sit through her pitch to possible publisher’s on why a book on the late French President François Mitterand would be so timely. We sit through many such (truly enthralling) exchanges, moments that propel the plot but take their time in the film to show that each protagonist has a life on this plane that they are dealing with as well. George would like to be in a romantic relationship and meets a girl (Bryce Dallas Howard) at a cooking class. Marcus still has to attend school.
While the film might have a sense of meandering, shifting without aid of a cleverly wrought transitional device between lives, the ‘hereafter’ never leaves the films consciousness. George doesn’t want to think about it, talk about it any longer. Marie is asked not to think or talk about it any more. And Marcus is mum on the subject, privately investigating his own beliefs on the matter. Each approach the subject differently, one has experienced the hereafter numerous times and dwells on its intimacy; one who has had one experience and has access to interviews with important scientists and their research on the matter; and a boy who determinedly visits one quack after another in search of a genuine conduit through which to speak to his brother.
There is an idea that the lives should converge at some point. You may have heard somewhere that it does, or we’ve become accustomed to story-lines that do so. However, it feels somewhat improbable that they should, and not only due to their geographic distances. As we find with Marie and Marcus, there are plenty of people who claim access to the hereafter on their side of the pond. Should we have known that Charles Dicken’s words would provide more than ideal narration to George’s mental and emotional state? I mentioned snug endings with regards to Eastwood films, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a neat bow. Though I shouldn’t have been surprised, the romantic tendencies were there all along. The music was one cue. I suppose it was the lack of melodrama that confused me. But it is as A.O. Scott points out in his New York Times Review,
“One of Mr. Eastwood’s great and undersung strengths as a director is his ability to wade into swamps of sentimental hokum and come out perfectly dry. Directed by anyone else, “The Bridges of Madison County” would most likely have been as unbearable as the book on which it was based. “Million Dollar Baby,” though derived from much better source material, walked through a minefield of clichés and emerged as a masterpiece. “Hereafter” does not land with the clean, devastating force of either of those movies. Instead, it is quiet, gorgeous and contemplative.”
Hereafter allows the cords to intersect, and romantic possibility, but as the film is not too subtle about there is still a life to be lived and anything can happen at any moment to derail or reconnect relationships. The film as open-ended as it began.
I like how Roger Ebert sums up his review of the film:
The movie is an original screenplay by Peter Morgan (“The Queen”). Eastwood told me Morgan doesn’t believe in an afterlife. I don’t know if Eastwood does, either. His film embodies how love makes us need for there to be an afterlife. It is the film of a man at peace. He has nothing to prove except his care for the living.
notes: I mentioned the transitions between lives. I suppose I have gotten used to fades or carefully contrived matches. In Hereafter the camera seems to move out of an intimate space, into the street or air or next room before entering the next person’s life. Also, in the music shifts slightly, emphasizing a different melody or instrument.
That the camera lingers, not hurrying into the next shot, we become lulled into the comfortable angle and crisp colors and well-defined objects in view that we are startled by the suddenness of disasters. and then afterward we realize that the tension had been mounting and the cuts so subtle–it really is fantastic. Eastwood shows so much to our subconscious, it is our consciousness that is slow to catch up, distracted by other things–this is great film-making.
do read these excellent reviews:
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Kathleen Kennedy, Robert Lorenz, Steven Spielberg (executive)
Written by Peter Morgan
Starring Matt Damon, Cécile de France, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard
Music by Clint Eastwood
Cinematography Tom Stern
Editing by Joel Cox, Gary D. Roach
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language.