Friday, April 22, 2011

Hereafter - Touched by Afterlife

'Hereafter' deals with three facets of afterlife. The tale of the gifted psychic, the seeker and the one touched by it. All three are believers. Directed by auteur Clint Eastwood, the movie provides a somewhat stilted study on the effect afterlife may have on its living counterparts. It sweeps off with the depiction of the Indian ocean Tsunami. Caught in its massive waves is a vacationing French journalist Marie, played by Belgian actress Cecile De France, who hovers at death's doors till she is rescued by some locals. That period of time has her privy to a world where the living are not allowed but always curious about, in their belief or otherwise. The touch of afterlife changes her perception of life.

In San Francisco, there resides a gifted man named George (played with accurate subtlety by Matt Damon). It's just that the gift is more a curse he lives trying to avoid, costing him any chance at an ordinary life. With the touch of a hand, he can communicate with the dead near ones of the living. A thriving career can be made of it, and that was the case with George till he, unlike a lot of pseudo psychics, couldn't live holding the keys to two worlds at one time.

The third tale and indeed the most touching and heartbreaking is that of the little seeker Marcus, whose world is shattered by the loss of his twin brother, his only refuge in the house of an alcoholic, junkie mother. Played alternatingly by twin brothers, George and Frankie McLaren, Marcus is desperate for a connection with his twin. It leads him to a world of psychic hocus pocus, where the intention is, more largely than not, of fleecing the grieving in desperate search of a contact with their loved lost. The tales move individually till they collide in an unconvincing climax. What else can we expect in a world where Babel and Crash have ruled. Though how Clint Eastwood, a filmmaker I hold in extreme regard, could fall for the trap eludes me especially as it is nowhere as effective as the previously mentioned titles.

This is a story with tremendous potential. The movie takes off with a shine and is believable at times. The Tsunami sequence, all wonderful CGI, is very effective. Marcus's loss and the changing of his world is sad and very real. The solemn faced boy's quest for a connection with his dead twin is palpable and a mirror to the grieving, who will go to any extents to exact some connection. The encounters are comical and Marcus senses the sham and yet, as the grieving often do, keeps looking for that one real deal.

The fact that Matt Damon's character aches for a chance at normalcy is obvious from the claustrophobically solitary world he tries escaping from, joining a cooking class. There he meets Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) a sweet, talkative girl with demons of her own. How a budding relationship is nipped by George's gift, shows us the doomed state of his social life and the curse of that gift. But the lackluster narration eventually takes a toll. I waited to be convinced that Marie's life had indeed changed. She cannot concentrate at work and takes time off to write about the existence of the otherworld. Very plausible, however I ached for the development of this character. Nothing came except a fight to get her book published and being jilted by her opportunist lover.

My grouse with the screenplay is that once the characters are established, which is very well done across the board, their graphs don't really go anywhere except towards the end in what seems a hurried and contrived conclusion to their tales. I would have been happier if the characters had just kept sailing on their independent journeys. The seeker, the truly gifted and the one touched by it. How life holds for all three. Clint Eastwood is a director who has taken shoddy, overtly sentimental material and given them a quite dignity, making them important cinema. 'The Bridges of Madison County' and 'Million dollar Baby' are two examples of an art he has mastered. Here he somehow fails, falling prey to cliches and obvious conclusions. Marcus loses focus and suddenly becomes the mediator of a potential romance which is so apparent, one can see it a mile coming and hope against hope Eastwood walks the other direction.

The music composed by Eastwood himself, is melancholy and in keeping with the mood of the theme. The performances are subtle and the actors all slip into their introspective characters effortlessly.  Afterlife is a strong subject and in that, it gets my respect. This movie is not so much about the other world, what might it be like there as it is about the people in this world affected by it. I did wonder if Eastwood believed in his subject though. Why did he not delve deeper into the potential torture associated with too much knowledge, especially with Marie's character, which started the strongest. Even George, except for the delightful little wannabe romance at cookery class, seems at sea.

This will be a movie with its share of advocates, I am sure. But it is not work that Eastwood will be remembered for. We have seen his capability and know how deep and true his cinema can ring. This doesn't, but I am willing to wait for the next one that will.

Available on DVD
Originally released in 2010

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