Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Produced by: Clint Eastwood; Kathleen Kennedy; Robert Lorenz; Steven Spielberg (executive)
Written by: Peter Morgan
Starring: Matt Damon; Cécile de France; Frankie McLaren; George McLaren;
Music by: Clint Eastwood
Cinematography: Tom Stern
Release date: October 22, 2010
Running time: 129 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English; French
Budget: $50 million
I admire Clint Eastwood. When all his contemporaries are either dead or retired, basking in their old glories, Eastwood has been scaling milestones after milestone, making at least a film a year, all of them better than an average Hollywood movie, even his bad ones (Is there a bad Eastwood film? Blood Work? Oh, I liked that film.) From the 1990s, starting with his universal masterpieces Unforgiven, Eastwood has been making movies with the zealousness of an artist in a hurry, as if it is a compulsion for him to make one film after another. In the hands of a lesser mortal, such a process would result in tepid, repetitive products. But, not in the case of Eastwood.
No two single films of his are similar, especially the recent ones. Even when he takes the same historical setting for the two films, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, he makes two entirely different pictures. Letters..., the 2006 film in Japanese about the battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese point of view, is perhaps his last masterpieces, which would rank with several other masterpieces he has given us — Unforgiven, The Bridges of Madison County, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby... However, the recent Eastwood film I enjoyed immensely was the small 2008 film, Gran Torino. The film may be simplistic in parts, and hankered elsewhere, it is told with such heart and feeling that it becomes impossible not to fall in love with it. And Eastwood himself, as an old man preparing himself for the last act of courage, is endearing to the core.
This brings us to Eastwood’s latest, Hereafter, and frankly, I don’t know how to respond to the film. Based on an original screenplay by Peter Morgan, who wrote The Queen and Frost/Nixon, the film, starring Matt Damon, among others, is a beautifully photographed and languidly-paced meditation on life, death and afterlife, not necessarily in that order, that fails to find a closure for its own argument. Better still, was there an argument at all? I guess there was, and the French TV anchor turned author Marie Lelay (Cécile de France) insists, there’s an afterlife for sure, she had a glimpse of it during her near-death experience in the Tsunami. But, what this afterlife looks like, and what purpose does it serve for the living, the film skirts these issues. Instead, the film tells three unrelated stories about characters whose life has been shaped by death, and as the film ends, these three strands of the plot come gloriously togther at the crowded London book fair, with Derek Jacobi reading from Dickens before a mesmerised crowd.
I hated the ending. This much I am sure. It was as if, after playing for an hour, the film was in a hurry to finish the story, and took the easy way out, made everybody happy, with two perfect strangers Geroge and Marie kissing and walking together into the sunset, as young Marcus learns to stop searching for his dead brother. Everybody is happy, we can go home now.
A major theme of the film is the randomness of death and how it affects the living. The film features two major real life events — the 2004 Tsunami and the 2005 London metro bomb blast. But the concern here is not the dead, but the living in the face of death.
The film begins with the Tsunami in Thailand, a sequence that should be more than the worth of your admission price in the multiplex. The film was nominated for an Oscar in the special effects category on the strength of this single sequence. It gives you an idea what the Tsunami was like, and I must say, it’s far better than the entire 2012.
Marie, a tourist in Thailand, is swept away in the surge of waves, where she dies, sees a glimpse of the so called “afterlife” (shot in the typical cinematic vision of heaven, a broad open area of filled with light and shadowy figures; it’s not like the technicolour heaven designed by Peter Jackson in The Lovely Bones) and comes back to life. As she probes deep into her mind, she begins to loose touch with reality, and becomes more and more interested in afterlife, but faces resistance from everyone around her. Nobody wants to know about life after death. But Marie is adamant, and finally decides to write a book about her experience.
On the opposite pole is George (Matt Damon, in a muted, understated performance; this actor is growing exceptionally with each new film), an American who has access to afterlife following childhood medical complications, and it makes his life unbearable. If he could he won’t have anything to do with the dead, but he has the gift, or the curse, and the dead follows him through the living. Slowly, and ironically, George runs away from life to avoid colliding with the dead. (I am yet to see Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Buitiful, where the central character is also a psychic.)
Between them is 12-year-old Marcus, who has lost his twin elder brother Jason, the leader between the two, and his cracked up mother is no help. As he is put in adoption by the social services, Marcus visits one psychic after another to be able to reunite with his brother, and in a dramatic scene involving the London bomb blast, he is saved by the ‘ghost’ of his dead brother, who does not want Marcus to wear his cap. The story involving Marcus is the emotional heart of the film, the only reason you want to sit through the entire flick. What Marcus has lost is irreplaceable, and he has no help but himself. At the end, he meets George, who helps him come to terms with the fact that his brother is not lost forever, but there inside him, in his memories.
I wish I could love the film more; but there are more puzzles in the film that cannot be solved, and this, in the case of a ‘good film’ can be quite frustrating.