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‘Hereafter’ Weaves A Bleak Tapestry of Death and Beyond

Hereafter -- Dir. Clint Eastwood (Warner Bros. Pictures) -- 4 STARS

Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" tells three dark, interwoven narratives.
Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" tells three dark, interwoven narratives.
By Yair Rosenberg, Crimson Staff Writer

Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” is a harsh film. In almost every frame, there is pain, crowding around the edges and waiting to reenter the scene even during the movie’s brief romantic respites. The film tells the story of George Lonagen (Matt Damon), a psychic who can talk to the dead, but wishes he couldn’t, and Marie LeLay (Cecile de France), a French television anchor whose comfortable life is overturned when she has a near-death experience while surviving a devastating tsumani. But emotionally, “Hereafter” is primarily the agonizing story of a twelve-year-old boy, Marcus, who attempts to come to terms with the death of his twin brother, Jason (both played by Frankie and George McLaren).

What is it about a child’s pain that proves so compelling and resonant on screen? Is it that tortured young actors like Haley Joel Osment (“The Sixth Sense,” “A.I.”) and Freddie Highmore (“Finding Neverland”) are remarkably skilled—or is it something more basic? “Hereafter” suggests that these performances speak to us so viscerally because we are all children in our pain, and so see ourselves most clearly in the image of the anguished child. Whenever we suffer loss, Eastwood’s film shows—repeatedly—how all the defenses we have built over the course of a lifetime, and all the coping mechanisms we have carefully constructed to shield us from the rough edges of existence, fall away.

Eastwood’s “Hereafter” doesn’t set out to soften this reality, but rather to portray different aspects of it through the stories of three characters and their encounters with death. Early in the film, the audience is introduced to twins Marcus and Jason as they cover for their alcoholic, drug-addicted mother, outwitting the social service agents who seek to remove them from her care. But their momentary triumph is soon shattered by tragedy. Fleeing from a band of London street ruffians, Jason runs into the path of a truck and is killed. That night, as the light goes out in his room, a stricken Marcus says good night to Jason’s empty bed; the next day, he is taken to foster care.

On the other side of the world, in San Francisco, George Lonegan is trying and failing to make it as a construction worker. Once a successful psychic, Lonegan has given up the practice—his ability to instantly know a person’s most painful losses simply by touching them is, he asserts, “a curse, not a gift.” With this withdrawn and alienated role, Damon finally returns to the kind of acting which launched his career in “Good Will Hunting”—that of the troubled individual with a remarkable gift that forever sets him apart.

In the film’s third and weakest storyline, television personality Marie LeLay attempts to investigate a vision she had of the afterlife while lying near death after a tsunami. Suddenly, the world she had constructed for herself, one of fashionable pseudo-intellectualism and media glamour, loses its appeal—death is LeLay’s new preoccupation. Her strange obsession leads her to lose her job and many of her friends, but, as one might guess, puts her on a path that will ultimately intersect with that of George and Marcus, whose stories merge when the latter discovers the former’s website. The inevitable meeting between the psychic and the bereaved boy—between the man who desperately seeks to escape the dead, and the child who wishes more than anything to speak to them—is both entirely predictable and incredibly moving, much like the entire movie.

Each story in Peter Morgan’s screenplay illustrates, without any illusions or Hollywood retouching, another side of the painful human struggle with loss. Some characters, like Lonegan, try to run from death or ignore it. Others, like Marcus and LeLay, cannot put it out of their minds. These are people we have met, and experiences we ourselves have had. Thus, at its emotional heart, “Hereafter” is a very familiar film. The ostensibly strange concept of the afterlife turns out to be a plot device used to explore human relationships and loss, much like euthanasia was in Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby.” This film is not interested in arguments for or against a world to come, or about whether psychics can truly commune with the dead, but rather in the raw emotions which fuel these debates.

“Hereafter” is not the sort of movie one watches with friends, or that airs repeatedly on television after its release. Films with children dying, graphically-depicted tsunamis and even a terrorist attack, rarely are—at least the kind that don’t destroy national landmarks along the way. Unlike most movies, “Hereafter” invites contemplation of the world at its worst, not an escape from it, and in this it succeeds. But the film also offers hope—for though Eastwood does not come to lessen the pain of human loss, he does remind us of its meaning.

—Staff writer Yair Rosenberg can be reached at

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