Ever wondered of a world beyond life—an “in-between” of sorts amidst the apparent and the oblivious, where you no longer live but remain hovering in afterlife, a phase hereafter?
Near-death experiences aren’t new to us. Many have returned from the tunnel they speak of—back to this dimension of consciousness, but only after capturing a glimpse of the other world afar the physical. People report qualities of absolute freedom, weightlessness, freedom from the limitations of body, and a place illuminating that pervades everything, where human souls are subject to benevolent transient of awareness beyond the limitations of time, space, and mind—a state of deathlessness.
What died isn’t real. And, what we experience after cessation of life is immortal. So believe people who’re charmed by near-death experiences or the other half who are obsessed by death. Infinitely, there exists a world beyond what we see, life beyond this version of consciousness, and that is what Hereafter tries to explore.
Summoning themes of the esoteric, three people besotted to death by their own distinct circumstances and forced to come in terms with conscious life—an ever-present yearning for something special in this tiny point between vast emptiness—Hereafter finds itself a fertile premise in search for intrinsic meaning and along the way, an enriched life.
Peter Morgan wrote the script of Hereafter enjoying the ambience of Austrian mountains. Sharing a striking silence akin to those lustrous mountains, the world in the movie, the script of Hereafter reached Steven Spielberg who decided to ensure that it is actualized and before Peter knew about it, the King of Spontaneity Clint Eastwood started filming based on the first draft itself.
Hereafter tells a tale of three individuals projecting their state in a sequence of 1, 2, 3, with each scene following the same order—starting off with the story of a French journalist Marie Lelay, a Tsunami survivor from 2004 in a stunning show by Cécile De France. The second protagonist, a young Londoner, Marcus (Frank McLaren)—in a timid, yet brooding performance, is trying to shake off his twin sibling’s (George McLaren) sudden death—unable to do so. The third central character, George Lonegan, living in San Francisco, assumed by Matt Damon in a powerful, yet restrained performance. This reserved and lonely George has a special gift of feeling the dead; a gift Lonegan considers a curse restricting any chance he has at a normal life.
The psychology of these three characters, each living in the perky cities of Paris, London, and San Francisco, and their coming to the state they are—slowly form the spine of the movie. They must resolve their protuberant conditions and move ahead – leaving behind their anxiety and remorse – accepting the happenings and embracing life as it is. Hence, Hereafter forms a cross-pointed account of three ordinary people connected by an extraordinary fascination to death and the enquiry into life after here.
The mood of three gobbling cities (Paris, London, San Francisco) serve as the background for these ruminating characters in a fight against themselves amidst their fascination with death. Clint Eastwood creates a meditative milieu, with a thoughtful, detached, and reflective treatment of a fantasized theme. Refraining from trotting a path that could easily have made Hereafter a concentrated fantasy movie, instead, Eastwood detaches himself from the content and simply shows viewers the conditions of these people fighting the enigma of death, exclusive to their own predicament.
Rather than running a commentary on this mythical issue, Eastwood shows it as it is, with his thorough minimalist presentation of occurrences. In doing so, he draws wonderfully normal characters driving them to a point of unison and readying them, all along, for a new start. Hereafter structures itself closer to real life than fiction, which might sound superfluous since the world is largely set on the fantasized reality of death. Eastwood’s treatment of the subject ensures that Hereafter stands tall as a revelation on how death affects people in its own quirky ways.
A high ranked journalist such as Marie, subject to a near death experience in Thailand, begins contemplating a life beyond the obvious after the incident and devotes her time in reflecting her mystical romance with death. A London schoolchild, Marcus, who loses his dearer-than-God twin brother, begins questioning life and develops a keenness for psychic inquiries in order to be closer with his brother. Whilst Marcus ventures in the world of psychic readings, the makers slam the overtly self-proclaimed psychics who work to con people than help them as demonstrated through Marcus’ own experience. The proletarian worker in George Lonegan has spent most of his life in close proximity with death and dead people. Making him gifted and unique, George yearns for a normal life where he is more concerned with life than death. These three special beings struggle to get past their phases and arrive to a stage they yearn for – different for all three, yet intermediately connected.
As a movie, Hereafter is a staple in American cinema, even though it hardly excited critics and viewers when it came out. Strikingly close to art house creations of Europe, Hereafter is as close to the cool, detached cinematic style of Europe as one could get from the lens of America. Although Hereafter is a high budget minimalist film with stunning production design, it feels quiet, very ambient. The dialogs sound jarringly real, less dramatized—similar to everyday conversation, as one would find in art-house films. Not shocking though that the movie received mixed reactions upon its release, partly due to the lack of theatrics one would assume.
Hereafter is methodical, slow-paced, which in many ways acts as a case of catharsis than a movie that aims to entertain. Eastwood delivers a simple, yet shockingly subdued movie, burning in tension underneath, with an ambience of coldness and piercing silence—almost close to how life functions for the normal, smaller than life person.
The progression of the story and the plot arrangement seem unpolished at first instance. It was filmed after the first draft of the screenplay itself, but deep inside, it is not really unpolished. The story is tense, the treatment is subtle, and the tone is therapeutic with some striking scenes backed by the fantastic cinematography (Tom Stern) and beautiful artistic design (James J. Murakami, Patrick Sullivan, and co.). Clint Eastwood gives the movie an expressionistic stamp. It’s of course a drastic switch from his popular Western flicks. Hereafter is more natural and imaginative that rounds up beautifully to become perceptive than interpretative.
Is Hereafter flawless? Why, that would be impossible! The immediate bonding of Melanie, portrayed pleasantly by Bryce Dallas Howard, and George seems far stretched, especially the dialog exchanges between the two in their cooking class sounding premature. The final coincidental meeting of the three central characters at a Book Fair in London, while that may not be impossible, pushes the issue towards sluggish writing, hence, the first draft bite.
Even with such flaws, Hereafter is an ironic story and flawed as human lives are. At the end, when dealing with a human who spends more time contemplating and contacting the dead than the alive, and characters immersed into the art of dying, the flaws in the movie punctuate the artistic allurements and the loopy plotlines—making this movie a playful involvement into poetry, over a serious approach on prose. After all, life is poetry. You never really realize how and when it starts and how and when it ends. Wasn’t it just yesterday?
Hereafter mayn’t be an archetypical Clint Eastwood classic. Yet, Hereafter might stand in the pinnacle of his arsenal. While there may be movies that are better remembered and perceived than this hushed classic; as far as storytelling and a perfect treatment of a story is concerned, Hereafter is one of Eastwood’s prime feathers in his hat filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Hereafter masters the art of witnessing. It dares to be honest without the preaching. It’s as good a soother you could find, closely mirroring the beats of music than actual drama. If there’s tenderness in movies, it’s right here. One of Eastwood’s finest attempts, it’s arguably his most underrated gem – a movie worth applauding for its honesty, beauty, and serenity.