The eternal question of “what happens after we die?” is about as enigmatic as the kind of film Clint Eastwood’s latest, Hereafter, tries to be. Supernatural? Thriller? Relationship drama? The film will likely defy most audience expectations, so to be helpful, the answer is all of the above, but mostly “c.) relationship drama,” final answer. Eastwood tries his hand at intertwining three separate stories about death/the afterlife that as one might predict, converge in the end. It’s a common and often successful film structure — if you’re Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Eastwood is not as adept at this as the plot-weaving master/director of Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel, but he finds some touching moments with these characters as he so often does, and he also provides a solid list of interesting, albeit scattered, questions and discussion points.
The story is an unconventional choice for both Eastwood and for screenwriter Peter Morgan, who is known for British historical fiction (The Queen, Frost/Nixon). Eastwood’s strength in this stage of his career has been the human factor, so that stands out as the film’s strength too. His second collaboration with Matt Damon proves to be successful yet again in that regard. Damon’s story captivates more than the other two; he plays a psychic medium trying to “quit” because he sees his ability as a curse. He shares a juicy scene with Bryce Dallas Howard that has nothing to do with death, but Eastwood captures the tension perfectly. Hereafter has any number of highlights such as this, but the cohesiveness lacks.
Of the two other stories, one follows a wealthy French newscaster (Cecile de France) whose life course changes drastically when she survives a tsunami and has a near-death experience in which she briefly “crosses over” to what she describes as the titular “hereafter.” The other follows a young English boy who loses his twin brother in an accident and his search for answers. The setup for these different plot lines drags and sometimes the film becomes flat-out boring, but again, certain scenes are strong in the way one would expect from Eastwood or Morgan.
The script provides a high doses of insight despite the clunky pacing. The focus stays on the way that death affects the living, specifically the impact it has on the other elements of one’s life such as the ability to forge relationships with others, career aspirations and forming one’s own identity. It’s an exploration or a case study on the impact of death and how it alters the way we move forward — it’s just little more than that.
In one scene, the young boy, Marcus, turns to Google for answers in a quick brilliant clip. He types “what happens when we die?” into the search bar and then clicks on several different YouTube videos of religious figures explaining their views such as “all will be okay if you believe in Jesus Christ.” The brief scene offers a fantastic commentary about where we go for answers these days that could generate a day-long conversation , but in the context of the whole film, it doesn’t fit the tone.Hereafter
Continuity acts as the biggest obstacle for multi-story films and its especially formidable in “Hereafter.” The films that get over the hump, such as some of Inarritu’s films, Crash, City of God and more garner heaps of critical praise, but the ones that don’t make it over the top usually roll all the way back down. But with Hereafter, Eastwood finds enough tender moments and makes enough interesting observations about the characters that the film, as messy as it is, never entirely falters.
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Peter Morgan
Starring: Matt Damon, Cecile de France, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard