Reel Deal: 'Hereafter' explores the struggles of death
These aren’t the usual haunts. Not all ghost stories strike horror and fear into the soul. Some are just sad. And not all ghosts are vengeful, terror-spreading spirits, leaping out from the shadowy corners of a spooky old mansion.
Sometimes, our ghosts simply hover over our day-to-day grind, seeped into our subconscious, triggered by memories of often the most inane details: a movie poster, a song on the radio or a sweet-smelling fall breeze. Sometimes they just slump down into an old chair, like they’re watching the evening news after stuffing themselves on pasta salad.
This week’s Reel Deal column features a trick-or-treat bag (mostly treats) of haunting films, just in time for Halloween.
What happens to the people we love after they die? Do their spirits pass on to a better place? Is there a heaven? Do they watch over we who are left behind? If they could talk to us one last time, what would they say?
Director Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” is less about answering those questions than it is a study of the people who ask them: a seemingly legitimate psychic in the U.S.; a French journalist who “crossed over” and was revived after a tragic tsunami; and a young boy in London who unjustly loses his twin brother and protector.
Nothing can prepare us for the loss of someone we love, and when they leave us behind, it always feels as if there’s some kind of unfinished business. Coping with this sudden hole in our lives can seem unbearable. And, for many, no price seems too steep for even the chance to spend just one more minute in their presence.
George Lonegan (Matt Damon) has been that link to lost loved ones for many in mourning. As a child, a surgery – during which he died and was revived multiple times – left him with an ability that he does not understand and cannot explain.
Joining hands with sorrowful survivors, he’s able to feel a connection to those who’ve passed on. The advice he gathers from the “hereafter,” for the most part, isn’t something the grieving couldn’t figure out by searching deep within themselves.
Yet, his “readings” seem sincere, and not like a scam so many other self-proclaimed psychics and mediums may offer. And the messages he receives are on target, whether they come from the spirit world or some kind of vibes or aura from his clients themselves.
But George can’t handle it. His visions often reveal more about the person he touches than he’s comfortable knowing – and, he discovers, it’s impossible to have a normal relationship with a person once you’ve seen so deep into their souls.
He feels guilty about profiting from his “gift,” or curse, and against the prodding of his capitalizing older brother (Jay Mohr), he tries to turn his back on it.
Meanwhile, on an island vacation, Marie LeLay (Cecile De France) tastes death herself, being swept under by a tsunami while buying a dollar beaded bracelet from a little girl on a street cart. Her out-of-body experience drastically changes her priorities, and distracts her from any normal life she led before, as she sets off in search of answers.
In London, twin brothers Marcus and Jason (played by real-life twins, Frankie and George McLaren) take care of each other and cover for their drunk, junkie mom (Lyndsey Marshal). But when Jason –– the chatty, outgoing leader of the pair –– dies, Marcus is lost and is sent off to a foster home while his mom tries rehab. But he desperately misses his brother and wonders if he’s still watching over him.
In the strange twist of fate that so many Hollywood movies bank on, George, Marie and Marcus eventually cross paths in an ending that doesn’t solve all problems, answer all questions, soothe all aches or wrap up all loose ends, but feels hopeful all the same.
Chiseled tough-guy, cowboy Clint Eastwood once again shows a soft touch and sensitivity, directing the screenplay written by Peter Morgan.
“Hereafter” isn’t in the same realm of his previous directorial masterpieces – like last year’s “Invictus,” “Gran Torino” the year before or the ambitious complimentary “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Flags of Our Fathers.
There are no villains and no clear odds to overcome. The only real struggles are deeply internal, which is exactly where it strikes its viewers. It may not answer all your questions about life and death, but it will get you thinking. And feeling.
And isn’t that, after all, what we’re here after?