“Cooking is for all the senses”
Right before sitting down for a screening of Hereafter, my friend told me she had read that it was Clint Eastwood’s ‘French film’. Once the end credits rolled, I realized there isn’t a more succinct description for it. Showing again how the marketing machine loves to manipulate audiences into seeing something they might not want to if they knew exactly what it was, the trailer used to advertise this nuance heavy work doesn’t come close to doing it justice. This isn’t a spooky tale of a psychic speaking to the dead, nor is it a disaster film where God has become vengeful; making it seem Matt Damon’s George Lonegan is the only vessel able to stop the carnage. The fact of the matter is, Damon might not even be the lead character of this whole endeavor, but instead just one piece of a triptych canvas constructed of three lost souls desperately trying to cope with death. One has been followed by it most of his life, cursed with the ability to hear those passed with the touch of his hand; one is reconciling the fact his twin, the outgoing half of their whole, is gone, never to return; and another is wrapping her head around what she glimpsed in her minutes between the here and the after.
It begins with a tsunami leaving billions of dollars in damage and hundreds of thousands of lives lost. Whether fate, bad luck, or perhaps divine intervention depending on how one looks at it, French television anchor Marie LeLay (Cécile De France) finds herself in the path of the tide, washed up in it, and lost to the weightless, lit darkness of what happens next before being pulled back to life by two good Samaritans giving CPR. What she has experienced was real and it cannot be shaken, especially when the one clear visage in her memory is the little girl she tried in vain to save from the demise she somehow beat. Her trajectory then shifts from one of fame and fortune to an internal need to find answers to the questions she has for what happened. It’s a spiritual journey of faith while she loses everything she held dear before the tenuous nature of existence became known. Marie becomes a woman embracing death as a new chapter to no longer be afraid of just as Damon’s George sees it as a burden separating him from ever living a normal life. Where she looks to learn more, he only desires an escape; his ability not the ‘duty’ or ‘money machine’ his brother (Jay Mohr) tempts, nor the parlor trick people like Bryce Dallas Howard’s Melanie assumes.
But these two adults are only grasping at what they see of the afterlife, neither really having a need to speak to someone who has crossed over, they’re just merely looking to understand. It is the third plot thread—all of which occur in an A-B-C format, repeating in order so that you never lose your bearings—pertaining to young Marcus containing the brunt of how death can ravage one’s soul. The son of a junkie mother that he and twin brother Jason have been taking care of and keeping from child services despite their extreme youth, (both played by Frankie and George McLaren), he is lost once an automobile accident takes his better half away. Always the quiet, contemplative follower of his more extroverted and successful sibling, losing him only causes Marcus to burrow further down into himself, the prospect of talking to Jason again the only drive left. His mother is gone to a rehabilitation clinic, his foster parents are confused as to what they can do to help, and the multitude of psychics he visits are simply frauds stealing his money, which he in turn stole from the couple looking after him. The pain and sorrow in his eyes is ever-present and his isolation more apparently heart-breaking than Damon’s and De France’s.
All three characters are expertly portrayed through the quiet moments of contemplation and emotion, expressing so much in moments devoid of sound or action. Hereafter is a thinking man’s film built with tonal weight piling higher and higher until the inevitable collision at the end, culminating in a universal acceptance. I wanted to say release, but when death is concerned, with memories unshakeable, you really can’t ever let go. You can, however, accept your life for what it is, fearlessly looking towards the future with optimism that things may actually turn out positively. And this is where the ‘French’ comment comes into the equation, not because a third of the film is literally spoken in the language, accompanied by English subtitles. Much like the role of Marie seeking to compose a political novel on Mitterrand, yet switching to write of her near-death experience and the true science discovered to prove it, screenwriter Peter Morgan, known for his own political scripts such as The Queen and The Last King of Scotland, has instead chosen to speak of the metaphysical and the unavoidable reality of all humanity, at one point in time, needing to face death. This is a film of introspection and emotion, unraveling in its own time without the pandering of Hollywood conventions.
Unfortunately, I do believe that while to me this is a strength, the general movie-going public—like my friend—will check out early from boredom, perhaps caused by laziness, or perhaps due to America’s conditioning for fast-pace and easy answers. Eastwood and Morgan thankfully have the clout to take their time and craft a work deserving of its effectiveness for the sheer fact it’s different and unafraid to be so. Whether you believe in God, the afterlife, purgatory, or a blackness of nothing when your time has come, this story doesn’t want to sway you in one direction or another. If anything, it sparks the conversation—one based on a person’s unwavering beliefs and philosophies—to no longer ignore the fact our lives lead towards an ending. We can either embrace the finality of it all as an inevitable finish or as a reason to live each second for the precious moments they are. Our lives exist with the capacity for forgiveness, retrospect, and passion. No matter what your personal demons hold or what you must fight to stay alive and sane, the one common factor is that no one you lose is ever truly gone as long as you keep them close to your heart.
Hereafter 8/10 | ★ ★ ★
 MATT DAMON as George Lonegan and RICHARD KIND as Christos in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “HEREAFTER,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
 CÉCILE de FRANCE as Marie Lelay in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “HEREAFTER,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
 Bryce Dallas Howard stars as Melanie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Hereafter (2010)