Not Even a Ghost of a Chance
I sincerely cannot help but worry, with no snarkiness intended whatsoever, whether Clint Eastwood has gone senile. He is 80, after all. I hope this not the case, of course, and I certainly don’t wish it on the guy, but I can’t imagine what else explains the utterly baffling Hereafter. This is one of the most incomprehensible excuses for a movie I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean that the plot jumps around disjointedly, or that it’s too complicated to keep up with, or even that it doesn’t make sense, because none of those things are true: it’s not overly complex and the actual events that are occurring are not unintelligible. I mean, what is up on the screen is not even a movie. There seems to be no reason why this particular collection of sounds and images and characters exists. I cannot fathom what point Eastwood (Invictus, Gran Torino) is attempting to make with it. There’s no story here at all. And yet, Hereafter is not lacking in drama and narrative in any way that movies often attempt and sometimes manage to pull off: you can’t say even that this is a static meditation on something. Because it ain’t that either.
Senility cannot account for the failings of screenwriter Peter Morgan, however: he’s only in his 40s, and he has written some extraordinarily fine movies — most recently The Damned United and Frost/Nixon — movies that have spun intense drama and compelling narratives out of tricky subjects. Here, though, we have three characters wandering around seemingly in search of a story for them to star in. There’s Marie (Cécile De France: Around the World in 80 Days, High Tension), a French TV journalist who has a near-death experience when she almost drowns during a tsunami as a South Pacific beach resort, and then becomes obsessed with the notion of whether or not there is anything waiting for us after we die. There’s Marcus (George and Frankie McLaren), a young London boy who loses his twin brother in a terrible accident and cannot seem to cope with life alone. There’s George (Matt Damon: Green Zone, The Informant!), a San Franciscan who used to work as a medium, passing on messages from the afterlife to paying customers — George was The Real Thing, we’re meant to accept, not a cold-reading fraud who preyed on the grief of the bereaved — but has given it up in favor of manual labor.
You know without a doubt that these threads will come together eventually, because we wouldn’t be seeing them if they didn’t, and they’re not terribly interesting on their own. Except to be infuriating once in a while in the way that all stories that wish us to accept that the supernatural is real often fall into: Marcus is saved from being injured or killed in a terrorist bombing on the tube by the ghostly actions of his dead twin, who arranges things so that Marcus misses the train that will be bombed moments later. But everyone has lost someone close to them — that is, I can only imagine, what is intended to be part of the appeal of stuff like Hereafter, that we take comfort from the idea that our loved ones are watching over us — so shouldn’t at least a few other folks have been saved at the same time? Anyway, even though these stories will intersect, it still feels like wild coincidence when they do, because there really is nothing but coincidence that makes it happen, and the convergence comes so late in the game that it becomes clear that the convergence was all it was ever going to be about: there’s no narrative reason for these threads to merge, just that they do. It’s like that joke about telling the story about that time you were out driving and you came to a stop sign… and you stopped, because that’s what you do at a stop sign.
On the way to that ending that is pointless and yet cannot truly be called anticlimactic because nothing has been exciting up to that moment, we get a strange amalgam of studio and arthouse, as we flip from Hollywood-esque disaster — the tsunami scene is straight outta every end-of-the-world flick — to French-subtitled conversations about whether or not there is an afterlife that come to no conclusions whatsoever… from Matt Damon meeting cute with Bryce Dallas Howard (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Terminator Salvation) at a cooking class to Marie’s epiphany about life after death happening so far offscreen that we have literally no idea what the hell she’s taking about when she’s promoting her new book on the subject: she sounds like a crazy person ranting prettily, not a supposed intellectual offering a journalistic exposé of a Big Secret (which is what the movie tries to insist her book is doing). Characters that seem as if they have a part to play come and go with, it turns out, no actual impact on anything. It’s not that just nothing gels here into anything that resembles a satisfying two hours at the movies, it’s that no one seems to have felt that this was a necessary thing for the film to bother itself with. This isn’t a matter of trying for something ambitious and failing at it — there isn’t even any trying.
Anybody but a name with the stature of Clint Eastwood’s, this film simply does not get made: it’s that devoid of anything we might expect from a movie. There’s no story, there’s no philosophy, there’s just an endless void.