Stars: Matt Damon, Cecile de France, George McLaren, Frankie McLaren, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard
Writer: Peter Morgan
Director: Clint Eastwood
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: October 15th, 2010
With gorgeous locations in London, Paris, San Francisco and Hawaii (this last standing in for Indonesia) and the agreeable company of Matt Damon as a tamped-down, but not hopeless man who is trying to change his life, HEREAFTER is quite pleasant. However, one gets the feeling that director Clint Eastwood and writer Peter Morgan (of THE QUEEN and FROST/NIXON fame) had something a bit more affecting in mind, and the movie seldom connects on a fully emotional level. Indeed, it actually generates more intellectual curiosity about the story’s claims of scientific proof of some sort of shared afterlife.
Morgan’s script for HEREAFTER has three separate storylines that only move toward one another in the final act. Famous French video journalist Marie Lilay (Cecile de France) is on vacation with her producer/lover Didier (Thierry Neuvic) when they are caught in the devastating 2004 tsunami that devastated several countries along the Indian Ocean. Marie has a near-death experience that comes to completely preoccupy her once she has returned to France.
In London, young Marcus (George McLaren and Frankie McLaren) is devastated by loss of family members, one to death and one to drug rehabilitation, leaving him in the hands of kindly but uncomprehending foster parents.
In San Francisco, George Lonegan (Damon) prefers working construction to his previous occupation as a professional psychic. It’s not that George felt bad about giving people fake information – because George is indeed the real thing. Instead, he can no longer bear to be a conduit between those who have passed and their grieving survivors, because the level of emotion and need is overwhelming for him.
After the big opening, which has some stunning images as the ocean blasts through a seaside town at roof level, Eastwood takes a gentle, thoughtful tone, treating the work as several character studies that eventually come together rather than as a tale with supernatural roots or epic significance.
There’s a moment of unexpected intrigue when Marie visits a hospice run by Dr. Rousseau (Marthe Keller), who hands over boxes of research dealing with the scientific argument for life after death. Marie becomes galvanized by this, but the film is well underway by this time and still giving equal time to George and Marcus.
The upshot is that the concept of proof is given a bit of lip service but essentially set on the sidelines. This seems politically astute – a movie that asserts definitively that there is an afterlife that works any specific way is liable to draw ire from viewers who disagree with this assertion. On the other hand, given that Marie spends some time talking about how the establishment has suppressed findings about life after death for fear of angering various religious groups, it seems ironic that the film doesn’t want to go into the subject further.
Damon gives a soulful, compassionate performance and we feel for him, and the McLaren brothers are deeply touching. The characters of George and Marcus are compelling to watch, but less because of their differing connections to the afterlife and more because they so fully inhabit their environments. De France is likable, though Marie is not as well fleshed-out as the other two protagonists. We like them, and we want them to be happy.
We do wonder, though, why what he experiences as a factual afterlife doesn’t seem to bring any solace to George and whether he’s resisting using his gift to contact anyone he may be missing. Granted, he’s trying to shield himself from the worldly impact of his psychic gifts, but Morgan’s script never tries to reconcile while gaining this knowledge is so crucial to Marie and Marcus. While already having the knowledge doesn’t seem to do anything for George that is until it does, via the sort of interaction that one surmises he must have had before at some point.
HEREAFTER is pleasant, intelligent and consistently watchable, but it is also oddly diffuse. There appear to be conflicting impulses here, to investigate whether certainty of an afterlife would affect people while trying to do three straight character studies and not be controversial. In the end, it feels like we’re seeing parts of several different films that fit together well enough, but don’t add up to a totally organic whole.