For a movie about the afterlife, Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” is dead on arrival.
The film follows three interconnected narratives that each deal with mortality in one way or another. A retired San Francisco psychic (Matt Damon) is coerced into once again communing with the dead. A French television journalist (Cecile De France) suffers a near-death experience. A pair of English twins (George and Frankie McLaren) finds their own means of survival while living with their drug-addicted mother.
Individually, these are each intriguing tales – at least until they coalesce around the central idea of life after death. Whether we’re seeing the psychic’s visions of his clients’ deceased relatives or the journalist’s visions after being knocked unconscious, Eastwood relies on the same vague visual concept: bright lights, blurry figures, a general sense of blue. And that’s about all Eastwood offers.
Mind you, I’m not demanding a Biblically based depiction of heaven. In a January post I argued that secular visions of life after death can be instructive for Christian viewers. At the very least, though, a film on this subject should evoke the wonder and terror that races through our minds when we ponder our mortality. “Hereafter” isn’t transcendent or despondent – and it’s not really anywhere in between. The movie broaches, then dodges, the elemental question at its center: What happens to us after we die?
Some, including the Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert, Variety’s Justin Chang and Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers have argued that “Hereafter” doesn’t need to offer an answer. Ebert expanded on this on his blog, where he wrote that “Hereafter” is about “the common human need for there to be an afterlife.” Online comments here and elsewhere agreed, praising Eastwood for not pandering to such a silly need and the religious belief systems that ostensibly serve it. Why, these comments ask, must humans naively crave a life beyond this one, despite any scientific evidence to the contrary?
For Christians, the answer is obvious: Heaven has been promised to us by Jesus Christ. Yet the debate surrounding “Hereafter” made me wonder what role the hope of heaven may actually play in our spiritual lives. How much of our faith is tied to this very human need to be assured that there is life after death? And how can we ensure that belief in Jesus takes precedence over the desire for eternal life?
I’d also be curious to hear from those of you who saw “Hereafter.” Did you also find it spiritually cold? Or did its laconic demeanor - this is Eastwood, after all – work for you?