Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hereafter (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Clint Eastwood is respected for giving authentic naturalistic detail in his films. He is noted for showing life as it is lived, without unnecessary emphasis on effects or computer graphics. Eastwood is tops when he dramatizes the struggles of life and the magic of coincidence. In Eastwood's latest "Hereafter", he tackles the philosophical issue of an afterlife. At the films start, we are in the realm of a vacationland in the South Pacific. We hear a joyous Spielbergian soundtrack underscored with deep sonorous tones. The camera is slow and voyeuristically furtive around the corners of a hotel. We just know that we're in for it.

A beautiful reporter (Cecile de France) goes out for a stroll to the local market. Then a deep Godzilla-like rumble as a huge wave comes roaring ashore. The tsunami attacks everything in its path as if in a nightmare, echoing not only the real-life tsunami in Samoa, but also the hyper-intensity of Katrina in New Orleans, James Cameron's "Titanic" and the well known horror of 9-11. Bodies are heaped under houses, some impaled. Others scream in panic and drown. Our reporter is struck in the head by debris and she floats through the deeps like a fallen astronaut. With her pale skin and flaming red hair she looks like a Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia. She is brought to shore unconscious and we are pulled into her spiritual core--zap!--- we see a surge of white light and a group of shadowy figures who resemble the faceless aliens of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Enter George Lonnegan (Matt Damon) who is a down and out, out of work psychic who has left the spiritual world behind. Too many of George's relationships have been severed over his psychic ability. He sleeps with audiobooks in the hopes of drowning out past memories.

Then we are in London with two twin youngsters who attempt to cover for their drug-addicted mother. The mom sends one of the boys to the chemist for a drug that will allow her to quit. The older boy goes in his brother's place and promptly gets struck by a truck when he tries to outrun some bullies. Thus, the three characters are bereft in loss.

Matt Damon's character joins a cooking class but he just goes through the motions of slicing tomatoes. Reluctantly he decides to rekindle his psychic pursuits, but an impromptu session during a date throws him off kilter and he flies to London in pursuit of Charles Dickens. The reporter gets an idea to write a book on Mitterrand but when she is cheated on by a boyfriend she decides to research the afterlife, publish her book on near death experiences and head to the London Bookfair. The three characters, then, are magically at the same place at exactly the same time. Eureka!

We are told in Spielberg fashion that the white light is a universal experience and that those we have loved will be waiting for us when we pass on. The twin youngster (Frankie McLaren) bears a resemblance to young Lukas Haas in "Witness" he is pale deliberate and wide-eyed. In narrative tone, the film is similar to an M. Night Shalaman tale. Matt Damon is earnest, melancholy and understated. Eerilly laconic and boyish. So wistful as to be a human whisper at times.

"Hereafter" works best when mystery confounds its characters. It does not matter if our friends are waiting for us when we die. The message is in the present and how we choose to interpret events. The most potent image of the film is the imagined kiss between Damon and de France . The scene in its epic ambivalence employs the same effects as in the documentary "What the Bleep Do We Know?" Like a visual koan, "Hereafter" is the riddle of one hand clapping, ultimately more potent by showing us less, than the final spinning top image in "Inception."

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