Before I jump into a discussion of Hereafter, which Lauren and I saw yesterday, I have to issue a disclaimer.
I see any film that pertains to the afterlife through the prism of the 20 years of my life that I spent getting What Dreams May Come produced. There’s a whole chapter in Bringing Back The Old Hollywood that chronicles my journey with Dreams which began in 1978 when Richard Matheson gave me the galleys for the novel of Dreams, and then continued through many twists and turns (and several possible directors such as Steven Spielberg) through the film’s ultimate theatrical release in 1998.
It’s as impossible for me to see any film about the afterlife without relating it to my Dreams experience as it is for a jury to disregard a statement that they’ve just heard. Intellectually, the jury and I can both try, but our experience is what it is.
With that as background, Hereafter is an absolutely mesmerizing, surprising, beautifully written, acted and, of course, directed film. In some ways, the title is a bit misleading in that the film provides some very, very brief glimpses of near death experiences but, save for a couple of almost subliminal flashes, never actually ventures into the afterlife at all.
Instead, the film is a beautifully, even masterly, told story of three people who are haunted by their own encounters with death:
First, a woman whose harrowing near death experience in a tsunami at the beginning of the film changes her life so completely that almost nothing recognizable from her old life remains. The tsunami sequence itself is bravura filmmaking at its best from master director Clint Eastwood whose last film (Gran Torino) was also an emotionally satisfying and vulnerable exploration of our own mortality.
Second, a young boy whose brother is tragically killed.
Third, and most central, the story of an intuitive (Matt Damon) whose connection to the afterlife experiences of others has also forever altered every aspect of his own existence. This aspect of the film is something else that hits very close to home for me. Although she (like the Damon character) no longer does private readings, my wife has been a gifted intuitive since childhood. She was mesmerized, inspired, and comforted by Peter Morgan’s brave screenplay, which captured Damon’s gift, and its attendant challenges, beautifully, hauntingly, and accurately.
Hereafter is an engrossing, challenging, adult film. Along with City Island, The Social Network, and Secretariat, it is one of my favorite movies so far in 2010.