There's a scene in Hereafter where death is described as "merely the beginning." The statement barely scratches the surface of the spiritual afterlife, but Clint Eastwood's latest film takes us on three journeys to find a deeper meaning in death and how life goes on after others pass away.
Each story takes place in a different part of the world. In France, television journalist Marie (Cécile De France) is having trouble getting back to work after nearly drowning in a tsunami on a vacation with her boyfriend. Meanwhile, a young boy in London named Marcus finds his life in shambles when his identical twin brother is hit by a car and killed (both boys are played by twins Frankie and George McLaren). At the epicenter of the story is George (Matt Damon), a factory worker in San Francisco who just wants to have a normal life despite his ability to communicate with the dead. As Marie tries to make sense of a vision she saw shortly before she was revived, and Marcus struggles to go on with his life without his closest companion, both find themselves questioning the afterlife and seeking answers. At the same time, George is doing all he can to think about anything other than death.
Though we're taken down three different paths for most of the film, Eastwood keeps the story tidy, giving equal screen time to each scenario and arranging the segments cyclically. The transitions are welcome and feel natural, though one of my biggest gripes is that the paths converge too late in the game, and the film's climax is reached all too quickly.
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Hereafter is not just a movie about death; it's also a depiction of how lonely life can be for those who are left behind. George is perhaps the loneliest character of all: his self-proclaimed "curse" prevents him from getting close to anyone. His friends and potential paramours can't resist asking George for a reading, and once he acquiesces, his relationships are forever changed. Thus, Eastwood focuses on George's simple, solitary life. He spends his days in a factory (making far less than he did as a professional psychic) and his nights listening to the works of Charles Dickens on tape. It's easy to see why George doesn't agree with his brother Billy about his wonderful "gift": George's ability to communicate with the dead has made it almost impossible to maintain healthy relationships with the living.
To complement the bleak undertones, Eastwood cloaks his actors in shadows and paints his scenes in shades of grey. George eats meals alone in his stark San Francisco apartment while rain is often conveniently falling outside. The same can be said for Marcus's days spent under a cloudy sky in London. Eastwood's methods are effective, and we're left with a general feeling of melancholy and sympathy for the living (rather than an air of being haunted by the dead).
Though Hereafter is not Eastwood's most gripping film (ultimately, it's surprisingly lighthearted), it's certainly not an eyesore on his resume. It has moments of both heartbreak and joy, and his masterful storytelling creates a compelling tale that could be drudging otherwise.