Thursday, August 2, 2012
(October 2010, U.S.)
I've said before (which means I'm about to say it again) that Clint Eastwood as a director has always been hit and miss with me. I simply never know what I'm going to like or dislike of his, nor for what reason. In fact, I may be the only person on this planet who didn't like UNFORGIVEN (1992)! I suppose a film like HEREAFTER, which is a supernatural fantasy film about death and the possible afterlife could have gone either way with me. It was not a film I rushed out to see, but then again, that's what a guy like me has Netflix for. Well, surprise, surprise, this one scored a hit with me!
The film tells three parallel stories about three people affected by death in similar ways. All three of these people have issues of communicating with the dead; George (played byMatt Damon) plays an American factory worker who's actually able to communicate with the dead and who has worked professionally as a clairvoyant but, frankly, no longer wants the job. Marie (played by Cécile de France) is a French television journalist who miraculously survives a near-death experience during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Twin boys Marcus and Jason (played by Frankie and George McLaren), are touched by tragedy when Jason is struck by a car and dies. Marcus' circumstances, like Marie, is touched by the real life event of the 2005 London bombings when he almost loses his favorite baseball cap, preventing him from boarding a subway train that later explodes in the tunnel. We learn later this was not just chance, but intervention by his deceased twin brother.
Stories of death and the afterlife can hardly be considered original, in my opinion. In fact, they're often portrayed as amusing (just think Warren Beatty in HEAVEN CAN WAIT). What strikes me as particularly interesting in HEREAFTER, though, is the relationship the people of the story have with actual history. While it may be considered very simple storytelling, I'm intruiged at the use of the 2004 tsunami tragedy and the 2005 London bombings. These events somehow make death, near-death and the events that cause them just a little more real to the viewer because we remember the real events of history and how they may have affected us and our lives. I've often wondered if it's just by chance or perhaps cinematic sensitivity that the events of September 11, 2001 were not included in story.
By the way, just so you don't think elements of cliche are absent in HEREAFTER, like any film by Robert Altman or Alejandro González Iñárritu, the three characters in this film do find a way to all interconnect by the end of the story. I can't accuse this cliche of not working, though. It does. I should also point out that I was very surprised to see a small cameo appearance by actress Marthe Keller, who plays a Swiss doctor. Those who grew up on many films of the 1970s will remember her from films like MARATHON MAN (1976), BLACK SUNDAY (1977) and BOBBY DEERFIELD (1977). It's been decades since I've seen her and I thought she'd pretty much dropped of the face of the Earth. Glad I was wrong.
Clint Eastwood gives a thought-provoking premise of the afterlife with enthralling tenderness and beauty and I'm happy to call this one a hit (for me, anyway).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Dr. Rousseau: "You know, as a scientist and atheist my mind was closed to such things. Oh, absolutely. Afterlife, near-death experiences Like everyone else, I thought people saw bright lights, Eden-like gardens and so forth because they were culturally conditioned to do so. But after twenty-five years in a hospice working with people, many of whom were pronounced dead but then miraculously survived, the account of what they actually experienced were so strikingly similar it couldn't just be coincidence. And add to that the fact that when they had these experiences they were almost all unconscious, a state in which my enemies agree the brain cannot create fresh images."
Marie Lelay: "So you think I really did experience something?"
Dr. Rousseau: "Oh, yes. I think you experienced death."