Review: Hereafter (2010)
"If you're worried about being on your own, don't be. You're not."
Clint Eastwood's new movie is about death. Death is a universal thing. It will happen to every person who walks this earth at some point, though it's still something of a taboo subject. Most people don't like to talk about it, and while we inevitably all think about it from time to time, we try not to. Why waste time thinking about something as sad and to some, mysterious as death when we still (hopefully) have so much living to do? It's a valid point. So why, in that case, should we go see a movie that focuses on that subject and, more precisely, what happens to us when we die? Well, for one because it's a Clint Eastwood film. Clint Eastwood could make a film about making microwave popcorn and it would still be worth seeing because you know in his hands it'll be something special.
Hereafter features three separate stories from three different parts of the world and I won't consider it a spoiler to say that they intersect at a certain point in the film. All three stories are about death, but not in the same way. One is about a near death experience, one's about a character losing someone very close to them and one, the Matt Damon one, is about someone with the unique and frightening ability to speak with the dead. All three explore the question that will always be relevant to the human life, 'what happens to us when we die?' One character in the movie explains something which I had heard a couple of times different places, which is that many unconnected people who have died momentarily and been brought back report the same experience: weightlessness, being surrounded by friends and family who have passed on before them, a very bright white light off in the distance somewhere, a feeling of complete serenity and peace. Yes, it could be that because these are the things we learn to associate with death from a very early age, our brain creates them when it senses the end is near, but it's also a proven fact that when we are unconscious, the brain is not able to create new images. And then of course the people with religious beliefs already know which direction they'll be headed when they pass on.
This movie isn't about making a case for there being an afterlife. Then again it's also not making a case for, as one character in the movie puts it, 'when humans die, that's just it. Blackout. Endless slumber.' I saw an interview with Clint Eastwood recently where he was asked what his thoughts on an afterlife were, pretty legitimate question considering not only this movie's subject matter, but also the fact that he's already three years past the life expectancy of an American male. His answer was basically that he's not sure. He doesn't think about it. He'll see when he dies, basically. Fair enough. Still, this is a pretty heavy, thought provoking movie to be made by someone who doesn't think about it.
This movie succeeds in what it does not only due to Eastwood's sure hands behind the lens, but also thanks to a touching, very well written script, and some great performances. This marks Damons second collaboration with Eastwood, and while it seems he's in about every third movie that is made in Hollywood, he's always likeable and solid and always brings the quality of the movie's he makes up a notch. Which is a good quality to have when you work as much as he does. I mean, he could be Liam Neeson, who's in pretty much every movie Damon's not, is much less likeable and talented and has just about worn out his welcome.
But this isn't a Matt Damon movie. It's a Clint Eastwood movie with Matt Damon in it, and Eastwood is the star of the show. There are some absolutely beautiful shots in this. There are also some very unsettling and tragic shots and a disaster set piece that more than holds its own with anything ever done by Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich. Pretty good for a guy who rarely ever uses CGI in anything he does.
Hereafter is a movie that might make you cry, might creep you out, might disturb you, will probably make you smile, may even make you laugh, but will definitely make you think. And regardless of your religious beliefs or viewpoint (or lack thereof) on the afterlife, you won't be able to deny that Hereafter is an extremely well made, entertaining, albeit somewhat slow (a little tryingly so at times) awards season movie for those of who like our dramas heavy, rapt and Eastwoody.