Movie: Reviews of “Hereafter”

Movie: Reviews of “Hereafter”

Oct 22

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RELATED LINKS:

Hereafter Movie Website
Wikipedia on Hereafter
Pulse on Near-Death Experiences (and related phenomena)
NHNE’s Near-Death Network & Resource Center

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XvJwTYnKww

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EASTWOOD BREAKS ANOTHER MOLD
By Charles Mcgrath
New York Times
October 13, 2010

Original Link

Almost every fall lately, it seems, Clint Eastwood drops a little surprise on the moviegoing public: an unheralded, modestly budgeted film about a subject that hardly seems to fit the Eastwood mold. In 2004 there was “Million Dollar Baby,” about a female boxer; in 2008 there was “Gran Torino,” about a bigoted Korean War vet, played by Mr. Eastwood himself, who forms an unlikely, heartwarming friendship with a young Hmong boy. His latest film, “Hereafter,” which opened Friday in New York and will be released nationwide a week later, ventures into supernatural territory, which is about the last place you’d expect to find Mr. Eastwood. “Hereafter” concerns itself with just what the title suggests: what we can look forward to after we die.

Mr. Eastwood is 80 now, and his film immortality, as both an actor and a director, is assured. He has never seemed remotely spiritual. His trademark characters — Dirty Harry and the Man with No Name, and even Walt Kowalksi, the “Gran Torino” vet — all face death squarely and unflinchingly, without a lot of hand wringing about what happens on the other side. “Hereafter,” though, weaves together the stories of three people who have death on their minds pretty much all the time: a French journalist (Cécile de France) who has a near-death experience during the 2004 tsunami; a reluctant psychic (Matt Damon) who has visions of the afterlife; and a London schoolboy (Frankie McLaren) who is desperate to get in touch with his dead twin brother. They all meet, and their stories connect, at the London Book Fair, of all places. No one gets shot, no blows are exchanged.

Has Mr. Eastwood, famously flinty and cold-eyed, at long last gone squishy? On the phone recently he sounded mellow but not mushy.

“Everyone has had these thoughts pass across his mind once in a while,” he said. “Is there an afterlife? What’s it like? All the great religions have tried to deal with these questions.” He added that what he liked about the script is that “it has a spiritual feeling without any particular religious touch.”

But mostly what appealed to him about “Hereafter” was the storytelling. “I liked the way the script took contemporary events like the tsunami and the London terrorist bombings and used them in a story that tapped into a general curiosity about the hereafter and whether it exists,” he said. “I liked the way the three tales all converged. That’s something I had never tried before. And the reticent hero is always interesting, the hero who doesn’t appreciate the gift he has.”

“Hereafter” was written by Peter Morgan, better known for his films about British royalty — “The Queen,” “The Other Boleyn Girl” — and for his play “Frost/Nixon,” which he later turned into a movie as well. His involvement in a project about the afterlife is in many ways even more remarkable than Mr. Eastwood’s, and his script, as it happens, underwent a near-death experience and then a resurrection.

“How did this come about? I have no idea, really,” Mr. Morgan said from his car while stuck in traffic in Vienna, where he lives part of the year and does almost all of his writing. “I am a person of the Enlightenment, as it were.”

What prompted “Hereafter,” he went on to say, was the book “If the Spirit Moves You: Life and Love After Death,” by Justine Picardie, a British journalist devastated by the premature death of her sister, Ruth. At once hopeful and skeptical, she visited spiritualists, mediums and people who claimed to be able to record the voices of the dead and examined her own experience of bereavement. “I was just gripped by it,” Mr. Morgan said of the book. “It made me realize that we know so much of life before birth, and so little about life after death.”

Normally an obsessive outliner and reviser, he began writing a screenplay without any clear idea of where it was going. “So much of what I usually do offers solution or explanations, but this time I wanted to write something open ended,” he said. “I didn’t want answers. I wanted to ask questions.”

The first character he imagined was Marcus, the twin who lost his brother, and then the two others, the journalist and the psychic, quickly suggested themselves. “I was writing instinctively, almost in sketch mode,” he said. “It was all so spare and skeletal that the pages were very white.”

He put the script away for a while, but after a close friend died unexpectedly, he picked it up again. “That really startled me,” he said of his friend’s death. “In the church I kept thinking: ‘Now what? Where? What’s happened?’ ”

Hoping just for a reaction, he passed the script to his agent, who instead sent it off to the producer Kathleen Kennedy (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Jurassic Park”). Seeing a resemblance to “The Sixth Sense,” she in turn showed it to the director of that film, M. Night Shyamalan. Later she happened to be on the soundstage of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” while talking to Mr. Shyamalan on the phone, and she was overheard by Steven Spielberg, who according to Mr. Morgan said, “I like the sound of that.” He liked the sound of it so much that he read the screenplay and made extensive notes, which Mr. Morgan immediately addressed in a revision.

But Mr. Spielberg thought the revision was not as “humble” or “pure” as the original, Mr. Morgan said. “He told me, ‘I think I’ve ruined your screenplay.’ Then he said, ‘Can I show it to my friend Clint?’ ”

“So now we’re really in the realm of the absurd,” Mr. Morgan said. A couple of months later he was further bewildered when he learned that Mr. Eastwood, who had purchased the rights to “Hereafter,” was already filming off the original script. Though known for writing on spec and resisting the traditional development process, Mr. Morgan had been looking forward to working with Mr. Eastwood.

“I imagined we’d have all sorts of conversations about the characters, about the plot,” he said. “But we never did. What you see on the screen is this thing I wrote very sketchily in the mountains of Austria.”

Mr. Eastwood said he typically works this way. “I believe very strongly in first impressions,” he explained. “When something hits you and excites your interest, there’s really no reason to kill it with improvements.” He even resisted the idea of having Penélope Cruz play the female lead, because it meant changing the character from a French journalist to a Spanish one.

“Clint is incredibly instinctive,” Mr. Morgan said, “and he’s anti-neurosis. It’s like antimatter. He’s totally without neurosis. The set of ‘Hereafter’ was one of happiest places I’ve ever been. It comes from trusting yourself and eliminating fear.”

Referring to Ron Howard, who directed the film version of “Frost/Nixon,” he continued: “Ron is the same way. He’s completely at home on a movie set, and I think it comes from practically growing up there. He and Clint are rather like sailors from a bygone century. They come into port every now and then, but really they live on the ship. They’re seafarers.”

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THE DEAD HAVE MESSAGES FOR THE LAND OF THE LIVING
By A. O. SCOTT
New York Times
October 14, 2010

Original Link

The afterlife is not necessarily where you would expect to find Clint Eastwood, who at 80 shows no signs of tiring out or settling down. His latest film, “Hereafter,” is at once recognizably his — in tone and atmosphere — and a startling departure from his previous work.

Death has never been a stranger in Mr. Eastwood’s cinematic universe: the lone riders and taciturn gunmen that defined his heroic phase as an actor were frequently pitiless avatars of mortality, and the grave has often been the horizon toward which both the righteous and the wicked in his movies are drawn. But like most filmmakers working outside the genres of horror or sudsy religious comedy, Mr. Eastwood has shown little inclination to point his camera beyond that horizon.

Nor is Peter Morgan, who wrote the screenplay for “Hereafter,” known to have much of a spiritual or supernatural bent. His specialty — marvelously evident in “The Deal,” “Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen” and “The Damned United” — has been the prickly interactions of living people in a decidedly secular world. The closest Mr. Morgan has come to a ghost story may be “The Queen,” but only if you imagine it from the perspective of the recently departed Diana, Princess of Wales, flitting unseen through limbo, raising a spectral eyebrow at the consternation she has caused her mother-in-law by dying in such dramatically inconvenient fashion.

One of the reasons that “Hereafter” works as well as it does — it has the power to haunt the skeptical, to mystify the credulous and to fascinate everyone in between — may be that its subject matter is so clearly alien to the sensibilities of its makers. Communication with the dead is a risky business, principally because once the door to the beyond opens a tiny crack, all kinds of maudlin nonsense come rushing in.

But one of Mr. Eastwood’s great and undersung strengths as a director is his ability to wade into swamps of sentimental hokum and come out perfectly dry. Directed by anyone else, “The Bridges of Madison County”would most likely have been as unbearable as the book on which it was based. “Million Dollar Baby,” though derived from much better source material, walked through a minefield of clichés and emerged as a masterpiece.

“Hereafter” does not land with the clean, devastating force of either of those movies. Instead, it is quiet, gorgeous and contemplative. Mr. Eastwood’s longtime cinematographer, Tom Stern, composes a world of rich, deep shadows and heavy, saturated colors, making you aware of encroaching darkness, but also of the intense, almost tactile beauty of existence. The inhabitants of this world — ordinary people whose plans and expectations are knocked off course by intimations of an afterlife — have a fine-grained individuality that makes you care even if, from time to time, you have trouble believing.

The film follows three independent story lines, which converge (not quite convincingly) only at the last moment, and each involves a collision between the living and the dead. In San Francisco, a man named George Lonegan (Matt Damon) suffers with a gift that feels, to him, more like a curse. His ability to receive messages from the dead loved ones of anyone he touches once made him a nice living, but despite the pleas of his entrepreneurial brother (Jay Mohr), George has chosen a life of obscurity and manual labor.

In London, Marcus, a melancholy young boy, intuits the presence of his twin brother, Jason, whose violent death has left Marcus adrift in a world where compassion and indifference are hard to tell apart. (The brothers are played by George and Frankie McLaren.) And in Paris, Marie Lelay (Cécile de France), a television journalist who survived the 2004 tsunami, is convinced that her near-death experience in that catastrophe showed her a metaphysical reality that the rest of the world is blindly determined to ignore.

This kind of braided plot, almost unavoidable in the superstitious age of “Babel” and “Crash,” may be as surprising, coming from Mr. Eastwood, as the large-scale, computer-generated tsunami sequence that snaps the audience to horrified attention early in the film. At the same time, there is an austerity in “Hereafter” that keeps the melodramatic possibilities latent in the script safely at bay. Mr. Eastwood’s stripped-down, highly efficient approach to storytelling serves as an anchor to the busy narrative and the complicated visuals, and perhaps the most gratifying thing about “Hereafter” is its patience.

You would not want a movie about death to be in too much of a hurry, and Mr. Eastwood lingers over scenes and details that curl away from the plot. A meeting in the boardroom of a French publishing house, at which Marie proposes a book on the life and times of François Mitterrand, the former president of France, is both perfectly irrelevant and completely engrossing as a snapshot of Gallic politique.

George, cautiously trying to shake off his gloom and find a social life, enrolls in a cooking class, where he meets Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), a young woman who seems as eager to fall in love with him as he is reluctant to believe it. Their early flirtations, delicate and funny with a palpable ache of longing, dispel the gloom and portent that linger around George, offering him a tantalizing peek at what a normal life might look like.

Normal life, in the terms proposed by this film, might be defined as existence pursued in a state of studied incuriosity about what comes next. What gives “Hereafter” its strange, unsettling mood and its curious momentum is the growing tension between this relatively happy state and the sense, shared by Marie, Marcus and George, that what comes next lies at once close at hand and beyond the reach of any organized system of beliefs.

Persuasion is not really the point, though if anyone could make me believe in ghosts, it would be Clint Eastwood. And the afterlife itself remains, throughout the film, a vague, conjectural place, a zone of speculation rather than a freshly discovered and surveyed continent. The fuzzy digital ghosts that occasionally flutter across the screen are more symbolic placeholders than literal apparitions. Something seems to be out there, and cinematic technology provides an available shorthand to indicate its presence.

What does seem new — newly strange, newly beautiful — is what “Hereafter” makes of the here and now. It is a curious movie in both senses of the word: an unusual experience and an open-ended inquiry into something nobody can really claim to understand. It leaves you wondering, which may be the most fitting way of saying that it’s wonderful.

“Hereafter” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has some disturbing images and strong language.

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