Should this review be looked back on in five years the following initial statements may appear wholly irrelevant, but in light of current events it is an idea impossible to ignore. Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort, Hereafter, opens with a massive tsunami wiping away a town and providing one of the film’s main characters, Marie Lelay (Cécile De France) with a near-death experience. While due to the realism of the depiction it will never be an easy scene to witness, following the earthquake and tsunami that just occurred in Japan, it becomes an exceptionally difficult one.
Hereafter, while it does postulate on an existence after this one, isn’t really about devastation and death, it’s about those who get left behind and how they find ways to cope, understand, and move on. Lelay’s life is forever changed by how close she comes to death and the visions she had of people in the afterlife. It’s something she can’t shake from her mind and which prompts her to leave her post as a news anchor in order to try and come to grips with, and understand, what it was that happened to her and what she has seen.
The film doesn’t only focus on Lelay, rather it is a drama with three distinct stories all of which overlap, if only briefly. The second story in the film is that of Marcus (Frankie & George McLaren), a young man with an alcoholic/drug addict mother who loses his twin brother—the good brother—in a car accident. Always on the verge of being put in a foster home prior to the event, after it, that which he and his brother struggled so much to avoid comes to pass and Marcus must attempt to move on without his constant companion or mother.
As for the third story, that is of George Lonegan (Matt Damon). George, as a child, suffered a near death experience due to an illness and has since found himself with the ability to communicate with the deceased loved ones of any living person George touches.
While for George his trauma is much further in the past than that of either of the other two leads, his ability hasn’t made it any easier to get past what happened to him. He views what he can do, rather than as a blessing, as a curse. By communing with the deceased and by constantly taking part in other people’s tragedies, George has become mired in death, depression, and upset. The distress has led him to removing himself from that life and from any number of social interactions.
Even outside of the current events in Japan, Hereafter is not an easy movie to watch, particularly the opening sequences for Lelay and Marcus, scenes where the audience knows exactly what is going to take place and is simply waiting for the horror to occur. Eastwood doesn’t milk the issue, he is certainly not purposefully pursuing a course to upset any member of the audience, he is simply deftly constructing a sequence of events that allow the rest of the film to take place.
Hereafter is quite a contemplative movie, pondering what it means to live, what it means to cope with both life and death, and even what it means to die. It is the sort of movie which, once the credits roll, will make you want to turn to the person next to you and discuss exactly what it is that you have witnessed. Much like the larger questions of live and death themselves, while you’ll want to think by yourself on it for a little while, you won’t want your thoughts to remain within forever.
The film represents an interesting departure for Eastwood. While he has taken on an incredible number of projects spanning multiple genres over the course of his career as a director, none focus quite so heavily on such weighty issues. And, while certainly a movie that will make you wonder, it is not as engaging as some of his other work. The three different storylines all prove interesting, and though it runs for more than two hours, you still don’t quite get as much on each of the characters and their stories as you might like. For the majority of the time it feels as though the characters are headed on a collision course, destined to have their lives intersect and be changed forever. While they do all meet and their lives are altered as a result of the meetings, that entire ending portion of the film feels more of an afterthought than anything else. It is as though Eastwood and writer Peter Morgan have the characters meet solely because the format of the film virtually requires it, not because they felt any true impetus to make those meetings occur.
The blu-ray release of Hereafter, much like the film itself, is good, but not outstanding. A significant portion of the film takes place in dark, shadow-laden areas, and all too often the Blu-ray does not pick up any details within those shadows (this may be a case of directorial intent but is still frustrating). It is also an inconsistently grainy transfer. The muted color palette is wholly appropriate to the subject matter, and detail in better lit scenes is good. The opening tsunami is, perhaps unfortunately at the present time, unquestionably the most showy scene and best highlight of the high definition transfer. It looks exceptionally good, but that only serves to point out the unfortunate timing and horror of it all. The same is true for the 5.1 DTS-HD MA presentation – the tsunami sequence brilliantly places you right at the heart of the tragedy with water swirling all around you. City noises and ambiance are the main uses of the surround speakers and are effective but not heavily utilized save in the tsunami sequence, an explosion later in the film, and the visions of the afterlife.
Hereafter has been released with a DVD/digital copy and two special features. The first, entitled “Focus Points,” are individual behind the scenes featurettes discussing various aspects of the filmmaking process. They are available to be watched directly from the disc’s main menu or can be accessed via onscreen cues during the feature. Although some do have a little more of an EPK feel than one might like, they are informative and interesting. The second special feature is an extended edition of a full-length retrospective on Eastwood’s career entitled The Eastwood Factor. It is narrated by Morgan Freeman and completely engrossing. It is one of those special features that is well worth the time it takes to sit down and watch it.
Hereafter may not be Clint Eastwood’s best work to date, but like so much of what he creates, it is still worth the time it takes to sit down and watch. Perhaps its best aspect is that rather than presenting a fully realized vision for what occurs after death, it gives but the merest sketchy outlines and overtly eschews answering such questions, leaving the viewer to wonder and think rather than rage against an idea they don’t accept.