Do not resuscitate – Hereafter review

Hereafter – Starring Matt Damon, Cecile De France and Frankie McLaren. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

I’ve never thought the ability to speak to the dead would be at all appealing; never enjoyed hearing people talk about their supposed run-ins with late relatives, be it in the waking or dream world; never liked watching Crossing Over with John Edwards. My problem with the last example is fairly cut and dry: the act of “cold calling” is exploitative, and unfair to those in mourning and to the legacy of the deceased. I think I understand why many people like the idea of being able to reach out towards those in the afterlife. When someone dies, it’s as if they’re heading to a holiday destination that we too will inevitably visit. And if our family and friends arrived at a mysterious location without dropping us a line and telling us the weather was fine, we’d be rightfully concerned.

It’s no exaggeration to say death is one hell of a scary concept. That fear has essentially defined the entire progress of man: from the formation of religions and civilisations, to our eventual creation of – and the subsequent evolution of – art, all in the pursuit of understanding our ephemeral lives (also, sex; sex is responsible for the rest of our actions on this earthly plane). In the last century, our creative exploration of life, death, and whatever-comes-next stretched into cinema, where the spirit world has been portrayed in many ways: a comforting, bureaucratic office space (A Matter of Life and Death), a painting in motion (What Dreams May Come); Enya’s vomit (The Lovely Bones). Hereafter offers us Clint Eastwood’s interpretation of life after death. How does it stack up? Well, say what you will about The Lovely Bones, but at least “Enya’s vomit” is an interpretation.

Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan agree on one thing: there is an afterlife. Aaaaaand that seems to be the extent of their willingness to discuss the topic. Matt Damon stars as George Lonnegan, a clairvoyant who can supposedly communicate with the dead; he merely needs to touch someone and he can channel their dearly departed. Lonnegan’s storyline is but one of the film’s three separate threads; each thread is equally unremarkable. Cecile de France plays Marie Lelay, host of what appears to be a four-minute news program, and survivor of the 2008 Indian Ocean tsunami (which is powerfully depicted in the film’s opening sequence). She crossed over to the other side, and has returned to reality a changed person. She writes a book about it. Cough. The final thread involves 12-year-old English twins Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren), who endure a tragedy and, as you might expect, eventually touch base with both Marie and George.

Hereafter plays like Crash crossed with Touched by an Angel. It’s both on-the-nose and painfully vague. It assures viewers of an afterlife, yet describes it as merely being a place where “you can be all things and all at once”. Talk about non-committal. You see, what I loved about Alex ProyasKnowing (and go with me on this) is the way it encouraged characters to take a leap of faith, and embrace death knowing there is an afterlife, but never going so far as to promise it to its characters. Hereafter asks for no such leaps of faith. It offers no poignancy or spirit; merely an obtuse interpretation of the never-never, book-ended with shrugs.

Ultimately, my ideological problems with the film are not as serious as my technical problems. An ambiguous film about the afterlife could definitely work if executed in finer fashion. Eastwood’s cut and run technique (he prefers only one or two takes) may work with pros like Matt Damon and Cecile de France, but it’s just unfair to force the young McLaren brothers to work under such conditions. All scenes with Frankie and George are stiff, forced and brutally unnatural. The script is already painfully expository and obvious, it could only be considered passable if performed with nuance, and you ain’t getting nuance from an inexperienced kid offered only a couple of takes to nail his lines. Maybe they were given a few more takes than Eastwood normally allows. It really doesn’t seem like it though.

At least Hereafter gives us another gorgeous Clint Eastwood musical score; it is perhaps his only directorial fingerprint that is welcome. He doesn’t direct the way he acts; there is no dry sense of humour, and no gravitas. He’s so concerned with churning out a film every calendar year that he’s become a one-man Ford production line. Hereafter fails to deliver on the promise of its opening scene. It’s a film about the very thing all humans obsess over, yet it is of absolutely no consequence.

2/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Hereafter opens in Australian cinemas February 10, 2011.

2 Responses to “Do not resuscitate – Hereafter review”

  1. >"Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan agree on one thing: there is an afterlife. "Er, no, they don't say any such thing. Damon's abilities are ambiguous, the 'dead' say nothing that couldn't already be in the minds of his subjects. More importantly the point of the film – that it's the connections we make with the living that count most – appears to have wholly escaped you.I don't mind that you didn't like the film but I wish you'd at least have understood it.

  2. >Hey Bruce,Roger Ebert expands on your interpretation in his review: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101019/REVIEWS/101019979Unfortunately, I don't completely buy it, or at least, don't feel as if Eastwood properly conveys that ambiguity. Especially considering that the first version of 'the afterlife' that we see is from Marie's perspective, not George's. That motif is repeated throughout the remainder of the film. The theme of 'the importance of connecting with the living' didn't escape me; but I didn't feel the need to discuss an element I felt was hackneyed and not adequately depicted on screen (when there were so many other ideological and technical issues I had with the film).

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