In the few glimpses we see on the screen, shadowy figures stand around in a fog, silhouetted, translucent, hardly even recognizable. They don’t seem to be agitated, but neither do they appear to be very happy, either — the kind of place where the prophet Samuel was famously conjured by the medium at Endor (I Samuel 28). And the disguised King Saul didn’t exactly receive good news from that séance, either.
Here, storied Director Clint Eastwood intertwines three stories.
Marie DeLay (Cecile De France) is a French investigative reporter on vacation with her boyfriend at a sleepy seaside resort. She has gone shopping for his kids while he sleeps late in the high-rise luxury hotel, so she is out on the streets when a tsunami unexpectedly hits. She is swept away by the rushing waters, and has a kind of near-death experience before she is pulled out of the water and revived. But in her few moments of lingering between life and death, she sees the vision of the “Hereafter” which will forever haunt her. Once the pouncing tiger on an interview, seeking to figuratively disembowel unsuspecting prey, now she’s distracted, preoccupied, unable to focus on the task at hand. Her boyfriend/director encourages her to take a leave of absence to “get over” what happened to her. Instead she works on a book, not the recommended revelatory bio of Francois Mitterrand, the former Prime Minister of France, but instead, an autobiographical pursuit of her life-altering limbo experience.
Meanwhile, a young English boy loses his twin in a fatal car accident, and he is completely devastated. His twin was his connection to the rest of the world, because their father was absent and their mother was an addict, and the boys (Frankie and George McLaren) themselves became clever at dodging the social service workers. The surviving boy is convinced that his brother is still watching out for him, and is desperate to make contact with him, so he seeks encounters with a heart-rending procession of quacks and charlatans.
But there is one man, George Lonegan (Matt Damon), who is not an imposter. Because of a twilight-death experience he had on the operating table as a child, he has been “cursed” with a gift: the ability to hold someone’s hands, receive some kind of electric thought transfer, and then connect with the departed loved one whom they desperately sought. Yes, the ones in Sheol. He used to make a living at it, but discovered that it was too stressful for him to do this all the time, despite the encouragement of his brother (who was making a nice stipend as his manager and agent). So George, dismissed from his menial forklift job at the plant, just decides to take off and start a new life — in London. There he could then meet both the English boy and the French woman at the same book fair — but only after one more unsuccessful attempt to lead a “normal” life.
If, as the viewer, you really do believe in a hereafter, you won’t find much encouragement here. The few who have “the gift” of envisioning are not describing a celebratory resurrection at al l— more like a disembodied shadow-world of disenfranchised, isolated, ghost-wanderers. It’s hardly the afterlife eagerly anticipated by Christian believers, or anybody else, either.
“Hereafter” is well-crafted, and well-written, but as ephemeral and un-graspable as the ethereal vision it attempts to describe.
RONALD P.SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church, Greenville, Texas