Movie #8: Hereafter

I can’t believe Clint Eastwood directed this movie (I was even more surprised that there were supernatural overtones to it). I’ve been avoiding his films for the last while because I always found them too manipulative. It felt like it was obvious how he was going to maneuver the characters’ lives in order to make you feel a certain way at a certain moment. I’m really glad that Hereafter shows that he’s becoming a more subtle director, even when dealing with a subject as big and profound as The Afterlife. The unadorned feeling of this movie is more in the vein of a foreign or independent film (except for occasional use of Hollywood FX muscle). Consisting of three distinct story arcs, the movie begins with a French woman vacationing in southeast Asia where she is caught up in a sudden tsunami. She is pulled underwater and drowns, but is revived. In those moments of near-death she experiences visions that stay with her and alter her life in small and big ways. In London, a young twin boy loses his brother in a car accident. With only his brother’s cap to hold on to, he struggles to cope with a loss that he can barely understand. Thirdly, Matt Damon stars as George Lonergan, a former (non-fake) psychic who has given up on readings and the whole she-bang because of the toll it takes on him and his life. Trying to keep his life normal, he attends a cooking class where he meets a woman (played wonderfully by Bryce Dallas Howard) who helps him take some emotional risks. I really enjoyed how this movie takes a very big theme/topic/question: “What happens to us after we die?” and explores it in a relatively naturalistic, subtle way. Granted, what happens to these three individuals is pretty uncommon, but it doesn’t feel like they’re so different from you or me. Sadly one of the threads that also weaves its way through the film is how the world seems to marginalize and reject people (such as our three protagonists) who take the afterlife seriously. It costs them a lot to pursue an answer to this question, but no one seems interested in helping. Despite George Lonergan being a very different character than Jason Bourne, once again Damon does a good, solid job playing a man who is a bit lost in the world. Even though the movie is well-balanced and not preachy, I would have expected an “Eastwood” ending to be kind of obvious and emotional. Instead, despite feeling a palpable pull towards anticipating the intersection of the three storylines, the ending was satisfying without too much swelling music or dramatic speechifying or blatantly heart-tugging scenes. While this movie was ostensibly about the afterlife, that was actually more of a motif within a set of stories which were more about the characters than the metaphysical. Those supernatural aspects were merely a pleasant sheen on decidedly earth-bound stories. (4 out of 5)

8 down, 42 to go!

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