Adding to my collection of movie reflections (like The Invention of Lying and Brüno), I have some thoughts to share about the new Clint Eastwood/Matt Damon film, Hereafter. Needless to say, this post will have some light spoilers, so do not read below the poster if you don’t want to know anything about it
I’m sure there will be plenty of people who disagree with what I’ve written below, so please feel free to share your comments and feedback!
Quick spoiler-free reaction: It’s a beautiful film but I couldn’t stand the content.
Let me set a tone: Is there an afterlife? No. Now stop wasting time thinking about it and get on with your life.
If what I just said offended you or you strongly disagree or object, you’ll probably really like this movie. It’s a meditation on the idea of what comes next, following a French woman who has a near-death experience, a San Francisco medium (Matt Damon) haunted by the voices of others’ lost love ones, and a British boy who loses his twin brother. You’ll admire the woman for her pursuit of deeper understanding, you’ll respect that the medium struggles with his gift but still uses it for good, and you’ll feel extreme sympathy for the boy trying to reach out to his twin from beyond. You’ll leave the theater feeling inspired and all the more eager to consider questions of the afterlife.
If you totally agree with what I just said, the movie (though not explicitly) will actually validate how you feel. You will see that each character is plagued by the afterlife, struggling as humans do to find answers to avoid the grieving process. Rather than see the medium as supernatural and compassionate, you’ll see him as a schizophrenic shut eye who has convinced himself his delusions are something greater. You’ll see the woman as obsessive and in need of counseling. You’ll pity the young boy that has no one interested in helping him grieve, which is why he seeks his own answers. You’ll be glad that the movie shows the misery of obsessing over the afterlife, but simultaneously annoyed that the movie celebrates the characters’ struggles and ultimately rewards them for struggling.
In fact, if you’re in the latter group (like I am), you’ll actually be pissed about a lot of things. You will be incredibly frustrated by how much cold reading happens in the movie, and you’ll see little difference between the fake cold reading and the “real” powers Matt Damon’s character has. You’ll be similarly pissed about the patronizing atheist hospice doctor who just can’t get over the fact that everyone’s near-death experiences were similar. It’s gotta mean there’s something more! No, Dr. Uncritical, it could just mean that all brains function a certain way when dying. You’ll be pissed the film doesn’t include any real skeptics who offer real counterarguments to the idea of an afterlife. And more than anything, you’ll be pissed you just wasted $9.50 and two full hours of your life thinking about the afterlife, which you already probably feel you’ve wasted enough of your life on as it is.
I don’t know what Clint Eastwood (who’s now 80) wanted to communicate in the film, but I didn’t learn anything new about the idea of an afterlife. I saw three people whose lives fell apart because they were obsessively thinking about death. They moved on when they finally got it out of their system, but there’s no real acknowledgment that any of them were having problems. Frankly, I think the film sends a negative message about mental health, suggesting that it’s okay to humor delusions and obsessions in lieu of grieving or getting proper counseling.
Still, for people who see value in pondering an afterlife, they will love the way the movie strokes their egos. It’s a shame because aside from the content, it’s a lovely movie. The slow literary unraveling of the three stories is actually quite gripping, making it feel shorter than its 126-minute running time. The tsunami that opens the film and leads to Marie’s near-death is extremely well directed, with a stark absence of music. I really appreciated that the music wasn’t constant, allowing for a lot of source cues, but strategically introducing leitmotifs unique to each character that begin to overlap as the characters stories come closer together (guitar for the medium, strings for Marie, and piano for the boy). It truly is a beautiful film, and arguably the ability for people to get very different messages from it is part of that beauty.
In The Invention of Lying, the film assumes there is not an afterlife and offers a witty commentary on the comfort people can get from believing there is. Contrastingly, Hereafter assumes there is an afterlife (or that it’s at least worth considering) and then essentially spends two hours meditating masturbating on the idea while downplaying the one decent point it makes: life goes on when you stop obsessing over death.
So is there an afterlife? I still say no, and I still say it’s not worth contemplating. Eastwood wants you to care, but honestly, don’t waste your time.
For those who’ve seen it, I look forward to your comments and discussion. Surely there are some folks who totally disagree, so let’s hear from you.
Here’s a clip from Penn & Teller hitting home that mediums (media?) are nothing more than bullshit.