Adam Dinan finds Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter a little over-subtle for his liking
Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter is an understated film about a delicate topic. In fact, it is so understated that it risks misleading much of the audience as to its intentions and implications, and frustrating the rest of us in the process. The central theme, unsurprisingly, is that of the eponymous afterlife. Eastwood threads a set of stories based around the primal desire for the great beyond and the human longing to communicate with those who have passed away. Everything we see is wholly suggestive and ambiguous, never committing to the reality (or lack thereof) of the characters’ observations, instead assuming that it is enough for us not to know or care whether an underlying truth is to be found in the characters’ shared sufferings and experiences.
Following in the vein of multi-stranded movies such as 2004’s Crash, the disparate subplots in Hereafter are brought together by a combination of chance and necessity (read: destiny?). Marie (Cecile de France) is a French television journalist who suffers a near-death experience as she almost drowns during a devastating tsunami, before being resuscitated; George (Matt Damon) is a middle-aged man who, so far as we can tell, genuinely considers himself able to communicate with the dead; and Marcus (Frankie McLaren) loses his twin brother Jason (George McLaren) to a car accident. Despite what we might expect given the overarching theme, there are hardly any remarkable events depicted for which we would have to lose our preconceptions. Near death experiences commonly result in reports of white light and a sense of peacefulness, and presumably there are at least some psychics who sincerely believe in their claims. We don’t have to accept anything out of the ordinary to buy into this story.
Equally, there is no major plot resolution to which we are led; the characters move slowly and inexorably towards one another without any real drama or event beyond the mundane reality of having to deal with the consequences of human mortality. Nothing is forced upon us, it is enough that the characters have genuine motivations and emotions. Peter Morgan, who wrote the screenplay, has stated that he does not believe in life after death. He didn’t need to in order to pen this story, because it’s irrelevant. The film doesn’t purport to demonstrate the otherworldly; instead impressing the view that the here-and-now is remarkable in its own right. In this sense Eastwood has made a subtly intelligent—if deceiving—picture. But in its lack of definite rhyme or reason, it fails to captivate us by committing itself, and it fails to excite us with a narrative that poses few questions and delivers even fewer answers. There is such a thing as too subtle.