Clint gives us a peek at the ‘Hereafter’

Hereafter posterWhat happens when we die? That’s the question veteran actor and director Clint Eastwood sets out to answer in his latest movie, Hereafter. At the age of 80, it has been suggested that it must be something he asks himself most days. But that’s not as unkind as some of the movie critics have been about the film. Among the reviews I’ve read – Hereafter went on public release in the UK and Europe yesterday – one describes watching it as coming close to “a near-death experience”, another says “it’s a messily-structured, rambling film with stilted dialogue”, and a third dismisses it as “a baby-brained meditation on the afterlife”. I decided to make my own judgment.

I found myself in agreement with some of these critics, but I also felt that, in its own way, Hereafter is getting an important message across about our consciousness surviving the transition we call death to people whose minds might otherwise be closed to even considering it.

The movie’s main premise is simple: we live after we die – no ifs or buts, it’s as straightforward as that. It also tells us that in certain circumstances we may catch a glimpse of that other reality, such as during a near-death experience. And it even accepts that some individuals have the power to see and communicate with those who have passed on.

The really good thing about this storyline is that it is conveyed in totally non-religious terms. Clint Eastwood’s vision of the Hereafter, presumably, is one that is open to everyone, regardless of their beliefs.

But if the viewing public accepts everything they see on the silver screen as the truth about the paranormal – or start to analyse the movie more deeply – they’ll end up very confused. Here’s why:

Matt Damon plays a reluctant American psychic, George, who is so troubled by his talents (“It’s a curse, not a gift!” he says more than once) that he prefers to earn a living as a forklift driver. He appears to be devoid of psychic talent until he actually touches or is touched by a person. Worse still, the evidence of his mediumship consists of descriptions of dead people that are so vague as to be almost meaningless: no names, no astonishing revelations, just generalisations. Yet the sitter we see him giving a reading to says later: “He told me things no one else could have known”.

Hereafter is a three-strand story that eventually comes together at the end. The second element revolves around a TV presenter, Marie LeLay (Cécile De France), whose near-death experience (NDE) during the Indian Ocean tsunami changes her outlook on life. The tsunami itself is created so realistically that it has earned Hereafter an Academy Award nomination for best visual effects. But the vision of the afterlife which she has whilst being swept under water is as vague and shapeless as Matt Damon’s spirit communications. We see white, blurry figures but nothing that remotely matches what is usually reported.

The most unconvincing aspect of this particular strand of the story, which is in French with subtitles, is that the TV presenter takes a break from her job to write a biography of President Francois Mitterand, 10 years after his death. Her publishers are delighted until she delivers the first three chapters and they find she has written, instead, a book about dying and the afterlife. This eventually gets into print with a different publisher and is called, of course, Hereafter. Matt Damon is seen reading it (below) as the separate threads of the story begin to come together.

The final strand of the story unravels in London and involves twin boys, Marcus and Jason (played by real-life twins George and Frankie McLaren) whose mother is a drug addict. Jason is knocked down and killed by a vehicle whilst running away from thugs and Marcus begins a quest to find out if his twin still exists.

That quest leads him, bizarrely, to a Spiritualist meeting where he gets a message from a platform medium whose only talent is “cold reading” and she’s not very good at that, either. We also see him trying to contact Jason through a researcher with electronic voice phenomenon equipment. And, lastly, he bumps into psychic George, who he recognises from his Google research, and stalks him until he agrees to give him a reading in his hotel room.

Matt Damon with bookSuggesting that such a young and vulnerable boy could wander alone around psychic and Spiritualist meetings, and have private sittings with mediums, without it ringing alarm bells with those involved is, frankly, laughable.

It is, however, just a movie and by no means the most far-fetched that I have seen. Besides, when we are fed largely on a diet of vampires, sci-fi, sex romps or romantic comedy movies, it’s a refreshing change to watch a film that does its best to answer a question that everyone asks themselves at some time or another and few find a satisfactory answer.

Whether Clint Eastwood’s answer is one that many movie-goers are prepared to consider is, of course, a totally different matter.

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