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>> Sunday, October 31, 2010

I see dead people... and you can too for only $4.99 a minute!

I hadn't really heard of Clint Eastwood being a director until Million Dollar Baby (2004). Since then I've seen pretty much every film he's directed, my favorite being Gran Torino (2008). A lot of people like Gran Torino because of the shock value associated with Clint's racist remarks. It's also pretty cool to see Eastwood kick some ass again, with his 'takes no shit' attitude. What I remember most about that film, though, is not just the dark glimpse into the life of a dying man, but how the film itself flowed in a very organic way from the softer moments to the rougher ones. I remember Gran Torino being like a great poem. If you have the patience, take it slow, listen to and watch everything closely and appreciatively, a rare and beautiful experience will unfold before your eyes - leaving you knowing just a tiny bit more about your own life and who you really are. It's not inspiration per say, but rather an understanding.

As with Gran Torino, Eastwood seems to be realizing that he's getting older. If you've made a movie about what happens when you get old and the last minutes of your life are upon you, than I suppose the next logical step would be making a flick that questions what happens after you die. That's when Clint decided to team up with Matt Damon and C├ęcile De France to bring us Hereafter.

George Lonegan (Damon) is a retired psychic. He had a book written about him, his own website and his own office. One day, out of the blue, he quit to pursue a career at a factory. Now George makes only a fraction of what he did before, but as his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) proclaims, "He says he's happy". The reason for leaving it all behind? As George tells Billy repeatedly, its because his 'gift' is more of a curse. He finds he is spending more time on the afterlife than on his own life, leaving George without much of an existence at all.

I imagine it would be a tough life being the man who has all the answers. George often runs into problems with people disliking what he has to say, as is the case with the near romantic experience George has with fellow culinary class student, Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard). After getting him to do a reading she begs him to do, he never sees her again. Even worse for George, who has the answers to the questions that plagues him?

Hereafter is not only George's movie, though. Being as important and diverse a topic as post-death existence is, we travel across the pond to catch up with the lives of two others who have had death come a little too close for comfort. There is the news personality, journalist Marie LeLay (De France), and Marcus (played by both Frankie and George McLaren). Marie nearly drowned and believes she saw the white light. Meanwhile Marcus, who is only about ten years old, lost his twin brother Jason (his only friend and confident) to a car accident. Marcus and Marie become affected intensely by the experience of death, so they both set out on their own journey to find the answers they are looking for.

Marie uses her journalist super powers to seek out a more definite answer, for a topic that her colleagues say has a 'limited market' (as in, it's only for the crazies in the world). Marcus on the other hand, simply wants to talk to his brother again and beg him to come back - sad, I know, yet highly effective. This leads Marcus on a journey that forces him to sift through the many fakes that exist in the psychic world - from mediums who use ultra-sensitive high frequency microphones, to those that use a similar technique originally popularized by fake psychic, John Edward. Marie on the other hand, speaks with esteemed colleagues of hers - professionals who have been looking into life after death for years on a scientific level. I found the two characters a good representation of the way the world sees the hereafter. While Marie is out seeking fact-based knowledge as a professional adult, Marcus is out taking a faith-based approach - which is right on the money for someone who is still young enough to believe in Santa Claus.

As you can gather from my aforementioned appreciation of Eastwood's directing skills, it would take a hell of a misfire for me to have disliked Herafter. One of the things I've consistently noticed in all of Eastwood's work is his keen eye for lighting. More often than not its completely breathtaking to look at and you can see a definite fondness for dark settings. In Hereafter, it works especially well as I believe all the under-lit faces play as a parallel on this film's brief images of the afterlife - where the deceased appear as fuzzy and darkly lit - another nice subtle commentary on the idea that the living are just as lost as those who have passed on.

I mentioned earlier as well that Eastwood's films more often than not require you to be patient. If you're looking for an action movie or for something that will move quickly, this isn't for you. Hereafter has a running time of over two hours, and it's the type of film you have to be in the mood for. But if you're in that mind frame, you'll be in for something that will leap off the screen and play out like the reading of an amazing poem, that has existed just long enough to be wise, and in turn radiates age and experience with every word -not unlike the Hereafter's eighty-year old director.

I am giving Hereafter a well deserved open door. Death and the afterlife are incredibly important topics to keep as neutral as possible in order to send the right message. Hereafter doesn't ever really confirm that life after death is a real thing, nor does it make religion front and center in trying to convey its messages. Rather, it tells the tale of George, Marie and Marcus to, simply enough, relay their story and portray the many ways a person deals with death. In the end, Hereafter is just as much about the acceptance of death as it's about what happens after we all die. Eastwood's never done better , and I would keep this in mind come Oscar season.

*Stills courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures


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