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Exploiting natural disasters


Hereafter (M). Director: Clint Eastwood. Starring: Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cécile De France, George McLaren, Frankie McLaren, Jay Mohr. 129 minutes

It would be too generous to excuse Hereafter as an old man's rumination on death (director Clint Eastwood will turn 81 this year). Eastwood achieves a sense of neither fear nor awe nor existential angst in his approach to this most human preoccupation.

The best that Hereafter seems able to muster is clichéd afterlife imagery (the dearly departed silhouetted by acid wash light) and half-baked characters pestered by half-formed thoughts of the 'hereafter'.

There are no great insights into the human condition or compelling questions about the mysteries of death to be found here. Instead Eastwood adopts an air of maudlin, shallow musing with an unearned aura of profundity.

(Continues below)

A near-death experience during the 2004 Asian tsunami offers holidaying French journalist Marie Lelay (De France) a glimpse of heaven (cue acid-wash silhouettes) that becomes her obsession.

Taciturn London schoolboy Marcus mourns the death of his garrulous twin Jason (both portrayed by the brothers McLaren) and toys with the idea of enlisting a medium to help him make contact.

Reclusive American psychic George Lonegan (Damon) resists his brother Billy's (Jay Mohr) urgings that he make a career out of his gift of contacting people's dead loved ones. 'It's not a gift, it's a curse!' he insists (of course), and the film dallies in a doomed-romance subplot to illustrate his point.

These stories unspool in parallel, before converging in the final act. Other filmmakers have adopted this kind of mutli-faceted structure (notably Babel and Amores Perros director Alejandro González Iñárritu) to good effect.

But the stories lack momentum, and Eastwood fails to imbue them with any sense of inevitability or of external forces driving these kindred but geographically distant characters into each other's orbits. This, despite the fact that the film's ridiculously mawkish, swelling-strings-laden ending seems to insist that Fate played its part.

In short, where Eastwood shoots for mysticism, he attains only tedium.

Hereafter wins a laugh or two with its portrayal of the chain of charlatanic mediums who attempt (and fail) to contact Jason — John-Edwards-Crossing-Over style — on Marcus' behalf. But these exist primarily to illustrate that, by contrast, Damon's George is the real deal. Clearly, Eastwood really wants us to believe.

Frankly, the film is utterly vapid, and vacuous. And this has serious implications.

Its explicit references to the Tsunami, as well as the 2005 London bombings, are redundant — unless it is to fuse Eastwood's fiction to the historical record, thus passing as fact his theological fancies, like Kirk Cameron spruiking the End of Days.

This is worse than misguided. The Tsunami, in particular, is recreated in spectacular fashion, but devoid of any significance except as a catalyst to one uninteresting character's uninteresting journey.

The fact that this character is a well-to-do, white-skinned European tourist, who survives a disaster that killed hundreds of thousands of people, the vast majority of them brown-skinned Indonesian and Sri Lankan villagers, is exploitative in the extreme.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue magazines, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail


Topic tags: Hereafter, Clint Eastwood, Matt Damon, Cécile De France, George McLaren, Frankie McLaren, Jay Mohr



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Existing comments

Films like these are "exploitive in the extreme" because they deny God and God's plan for Salvation. For those who refuse to do God's will, Hell will be their reward. Catholic principles are forgotten and the "Good News" is not conveyed to souls who are desperately in need of learning the Divine Truth.

Why worry about death when our souls are immortal. There are two ultimate destinations: Heaven or Hell.
If we obey God's law, in the natural law, the commandments and the Gospel, our afterlife will be with God in Heaven. Belief in "mediums" and such like come from the Devil and Catholics should not attend movies like this.

Trent | 10 February 2011  

This article expresses much of the disillusionment I found myself in after I left the cinema and is a sound deconstruction of a film that was, for me (as it seems for Tim as well), characterised by 'clichéd afterlife imagery' and earnest spirit reading that had me squirming at its lack of depth and lack of self-awareness. A shame, given the scope for profundity the topic of the 'afterlife' has.

Tom | 21 February 2011  

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