Hereafter (2010)

Directed by Clint Eastwood

When you see the name Clint Eastwood associated with a film you immediately have a problem because there are so many ideas, preconceptions (including misconceptions) and images that come into play. No matter how you resist, you inevitably have some notion about what it is you are going to see.

When you include the marketing that goes along with a movie when it’s released, the problem really compounds. With Hereafter, trailers showed dramatic scenes from the movie that suggest it may be a disaster movie.

It’s not. And it’s not an action movie or a horror movie.

Matt Damon in Hereafter.

It’s largely a quiet rumination on the subject of death. More specifically, it looks at near-death experiences and psychic abilities, though it never takes a stance on whether they are valid.

Eastwood is more interested in the story of people who have these experiences.

The movie follows the stories of three characters who have experiences with death. It begins with a French reporter, Marie Lelay (Cécile De France). She has a dramatic experience in which she dies, or at least appears to from a medical perspective.

There is also the story of young Marcus who loses his brother Jason (Frankie and George McLaren).

Finally, and centrally, there is the story of George Lonegan (Matt Damon) who, as a result of a childhood near-death experience, has the psychic ability to connect with the dead, or so he and others believe. (The movie leaves this open to interpretation.)

Cécile De France in Hereafter.

If you are like me, you know from the start these three stories have to intersect. From beginning I was wondering when and how. In part, this is what held my attention through the movie.

Overall, however, I really enjoyed the movie because of its focus on the characters and their stories. I suspect many people will find it difficult to sit through because it is so quiet and thoughtful. With a couple of exceptions, it doesn’t provide the adrenalin rush moviegoers have become accustomed to with recent films.

That’s a pity because this is such a nice, good movie. It may drag a bit in the middle where the slower pace may become a bit too much, but I can’t say for certain. (I was interrupted watching the movie halfway through by a power failure.)

Frankie McLaren in Hereafter.

Performances are wonderful too. The main characters come across so naturally there is no awareness of acting. You’re pulled into the story without the sense of watching a movie.

Eastwood opens in an intriguing way, too. We see two characters in a hotel room speaking French. There are subtitles. It feels and looks as if you are watching a foreign film, one from France perhaps. You know you aren’t because you know it’s an American film, the director is Clint Eastwood … yet it feels that way.

What is interesting is the way it moves into English, which is very realistic. As the woman (De France) leaves the hotel room and begins meeting others, she continues to speak French, then English, then back again and then English … It’s exactly the way fluently bilingual people speak, switching back and forth without pause from one language to the other as their situation dictates.

Compare this kind of transition to movies where there is a sudden cut or, as one movie does it, moving the camera away from the characters in a scene and then back, the language changing during the transition. (I don’t recall what the movie was.)

Bryce Dallas Howard and Matt Damon in Hereafter.

One last observation about the camerawork … I noticed a great deal of it in Hereafter, which I don’t recall from other Eastwood films, though he may have used it. It’s a handheld camera and three things struck me about it: 1) that it was being used at all, 2) the degree of movement, which is comparatively slight, and 3) how it is used.

Like just about everything in the film, it is understated. You scarcely detect it. And it struck me that more often than not it was a very slight zooming in on one of the three major characters as they were experiencing something. You would see a medium shot for example but the camera would be moving in closer to them, but only slightly.

Except for the final scene (as far as I noticed) where the zoom was moving out from the characters. It occurs to me that this could be a way to illustrate how what these characters have experienced and are experiencing has caused them to withdraw and internalize. At the end, as the movie resolves, it moves the other way as if they are finally able to rejoin the external world, the one outside of themselves.

I’m just speculating, of course. I may be full of hooey. But the camera movement is definitely there and now, when watching other Eastwood films, I’ll watch for camera movement — although I don’t think he generally uses it. If he has in the past, it’s certainly not to the same degree as here.

Finally, this is a very good movie. But it is also a thoughtful, quiet one so don’t expect to get an adrenalin fix here.

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