Have you ever wondered what happens to us after we die? Clint Eastwood (known recently for directing the acclaimed Invictus and Million Dollar Baby) asks this question in 2010 drama Hereafter, starring Matt Damon (Saving Private Ryan, Oceans trilogy, Bourne trilogy) as a once psychic attempting to move on with a ‘normal’ life, alongside Cécile de France and Frankie McLaren as two people who have experienced the aspect of death in different and troubling ways.
The film opens to French Journalist Marie Lelay (de France) shopping in Thailand for her children when an unexpected tsunami (2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami) hits, sweeping up her and thousands of others along the beach. She is pulled out of the water and revived by some rescuers after having a near death experience. Her and her lover, Didier (Thierry Neuvic), reunite after, and they return to Paris. However, her memory of visions she saw when unconscious of several figures inhabiting a realm of light, troubles her and interferes with her work. Didier, who is also her producer, sends her on leave to get her mind right.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, George Lonegan (Damon), a former psychic, is persuaded to perform a reading for his brother Billy (Jay Mohr)’s client (Richard Kind), despite George’s wishes. George has the gift to communicate with the dead and is asked to speak with the client’s deceased wife. George feels the word ‘June’ and asks the client of it was some sort of date, but the client dismisses it. Later, the client reveals to Billy that June was the name of his wife’s nurse, whom he had been in love with for ten years.
In London, twin brothers Marcus and Jason have their pictures taken for their alcoholic and drug-abusive mother (Lyndsey Marshal), who they try desperately to prevent from losing to social services. She later asks Marcus to go to the pharmacist to pick up her detox prescription, but Jason offers to instead, seeing that Marcus has yet to finish his homework. On his way home, Jason is threatened by street thugs and is hit by a van while trying to escape, killed instantly. Traumatizes Marcus is later sent to a foster home after his mother is taken away.
Marie, now haven to begin writing a book contemplating her thoughts on death and her experience during the tsunami, travels to Switzerland to meet a doctor and specialist in the field of Marie’s interest. The doctor, having lost so many patients, reveals she now believes in an afterlife; that people like Marie have experience some of it, and urges her to finish the book.
Longing for one last reunion with his brother Jason, Marcus sneaks out with his foster parents money, seeking various ‘psychics’ who all turn out to be frauds. He loses Jason’s cap when about to board a subway. When he locates it within the crowd of people, the doors have already shut on the train and he is too late. Moments later, sounds of the subway crashing are heard, and Marcus sees it explode.
George is questioned by a woman about his psychic abilities which she heard about from the previous client of Billy’s, pleading that he would do a reading for her. George declines, unable to continue dealing with the emotional and disturbing impacts with those he ‘connects’ with. He discusses it with Billy, who promises he will ensure his client will share of the reading no more. Later, George enrolls in cooking classes. The students are paired up with each other, leading George to meet Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), a young woman who was late for the first class. During a ‘taste test,’ the two discuss their backgrounds and reasons for joining the class. After the second week they attempt to use their newfound skills to prepare an Italian dinner at George’s place. Billy leaves a message on the answering machine, explaining he spoke with his client and that George should no longer have to worry about people discovering his ‘gift.’ Melanie shows interest, so he explains of how, after an accident when a child, he began to see clear visions of strangers, turning out to be those who have died. She pressured him into doing a reading for her, in which George connects with Melanie’s father who recently passed, asking for forgiveness for what he had done to her in her childhood. Melanie later leaves, in tears, and does not return to the cooking class. *Continue reading to see the second half of the plot.*
Marie presents a new manuscript entitled ‘Hereafter: A Conspiracy of Silence’ in the place of her previous biography of François Mitterrand for her publisher (Jean-Yves Berteloot). He is stunned with the work and rejects it, but does inform her of others who might be interested in publishing, most of which who reside in London. She also discovers of Didier’s resistance in her taking back her job as a reporter after her public reputation was damaged due to her interest in ‘hereafter,’ and that he is having an affair with the woman who has replaced her on the new program.
After being laid off from his factory job, George is persuaded by Billy to revive his career as a psychic. Still dealing with post-emotions with Melanie, he abandons the business and leaves San Francisco to start a new life, possibly in London. As a fan of Charles Dickens, one who listens to Derek Jacobi narrate his work every night on a recording, he visits the Dickens museum and attends a live reading at a book fair, in which he is very enthusiastic about. Another presenter at the book fair is Marie, having published her book ‘Hereafter.’ He becomes very interested and purchases a copy of the book in which she signs for him, and they momentarily touch hands, giving George a chance to see a vision of her drowning.
Marcus, also at the book fair with his foster parents, spots George at Marie’s table, recognizing him from his psychic website. He is persistent and asking George to perform a reading, but George doesn’t listen and flees to his hotel. He noticed Marcus follow him there and stand outside the hotel waiting anxiously for what seems like hours. George finally has mercy on the child and brings him inside, and agrees to do the reading. He explains to Marcus that Jason is happy in his afterlife, and wants Marcus to look after himself from now on, and that he wishes Marcus not wear his cap anymore, as it was him who blew it off at the train station. George loses the connection, but Marcus is still in tears, still upset. George takes over continues to tell Marcus that Jason wants him not to fear anymore.
Marcus feels sorry for George not having a chance to talk with the French woman, Maria, and phones George with the location of where she is staying. George is later seen visiting his mother at the rehab center, and they are both mentally improving.
George leaves a note for Marie at her hotel room. He later awaits to meet her for lunch. When he sees her, he has a brief vision of them embracing and kissing in the near future. She notices him and they hold hands as the film closes.
Hereafter’s intriguing premise and profound characters make this movie enjoyable and strangely interesting. Despite being a slow-moving drama, the film’s unusual and original script will keep you engrossed throughout. The confluence of these three characters’ lives who have all had to deal with death flows beautifully and makes a compelling and fascinating idea for a film.
Sadly, it offers little more. The plot feels very clumsy at times, never quite establishing a defiant objective. It’s more like a chronology of events in these characters lives, rather than a story being unfolded. Fortunately, the characters experience significant development during the course of the movie, which hardly makes that aspect recognizable.
This movie is not a fantasy or natural disaster film, as it may have appeared in trailers or previews. It is a drama that, while lacking a grounded direction for a plot, incorporates real and distraught beings, lost in the confusion of what lies behind the terrifying gates of death.