2nd April 2011
Hereafter (Rated M)
Clint Eastwood's Hereafter is not one of his best, though given the theme, it is certainly one of the most interesting. Many of his films in the last two decades have vividly explored the themes of death, including his masterpiece Unforgiven, but this one takes us to the question of what happens after death.
The opening scene sets the tone and is as dramatic an opening as one could find in recent films, resonating with a contemporary audience who often ask the question - why was that not me? Interestingly the film was removed from many cinemas in the wake of the recent disasters in Japan.
We live in a time where spiritual mediums have become superstars and command large amounts of money and have their own television shows. I am not inclined to mention their names for fear of giving them even more recognition. Due to the experiences of one survivor, the film explores the world of the hereafter and the often documented ‘near-death' experiences of people and the searching that people undertake because they want to communicate with their lost loved ones.
The main character, George (played by Matt Damon) has the ‘gift', but also the ‘curse'. He can relay messages to the living from their loved ones simply by touching their hands. It had become so burdensome that he gave up his ‘business' and took a labouring job. Circumstances though draw him and the other leading characters together and offer a picture about how Eastwood and the writer Peter Morgan view life, death and the afterlife. One would have to say they have a cynical view about the afterlife. Eastwood himself is a non-believer. One scene shows one of the other characters at a spiritual meeting where the woman is clearly exposed as a charlatan to the film audience. Many forms of spiritual searching are shown and each is found wanting. It is worth commenting that a young boy's first foray into exploring a spiritual connection is via the World Wide Web. Web-searching he comes across a Christian preacher who gives a simple message of who to trust at these times of loss - Jesus Christ. The look on the boy's face makes it plain that he sees this person as someone who is no help at all.
While the film's theme is the Hereafter, the actual meaning is revealed at the end. It is basically a love story and is about finding a ‘soul-mate'. For Eastwood and Morgan, spiritual connections are primarily human affairs, meaning you need to make the most of the present world. I could not help but be reminded of the ruin and ultimate death that searching after false spiritual connections can bring. What you involve yourself with does not have a neutral quality. "Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.' (Leviticus 19: 3,NIV)
Peter Bentley, ACC Executive Consultant