Matt Damon plays the Clint Eastwood character in Clint Eastwood's Hereafter — the man of few words, the man from nowhere, the man so invisible, so far-removed from convivial society, that he might as well have no name. Why do you need a name when there's no one around to use it? And yet, he answers to George Lonegan — an entirely appropriate surname for a loner — and we realise that we are in that kind of movie, where solemn signifiers spill over like freshly popped corn, and which, depending on your stand on all-too-frequent nudges in the ribs from the screenwriter, you might well label corny.
The storyline certainly is — three people in two continents united by one destiny. Alejandro González Iñárritu would have killed to lay his hands on this ripe scenario, rife with possibilities for yet another meditation on the random interconnectedness of us and the universe.
Eastwood, however, isn't after morals but mood, a mournful mood, and he begins his film on a note as far removed as possible, with an explosion of energy. Marie (Cécile de France), a television journalist from Paris, is swept up in a tsunami and nearly loses her life. Elsewhere, there's George, who was a psychic. The past tense refers not to the loss of his paranormal abilities but his reluctance to employ them any longer. “A life that's all about death is no life at all,” he reasons, as he resumes his life amidst the living, like a superhero rejecting his superpowers in an attempt to be a normal human being. He eats his dinners alone and spends his nights listening to audio books of Dickens, David Copperfield in particular. His domicile, in short, is a bleak house.
Finally, there's Marcus (played by Frankie and George McLaren), a preteen in London attempting to come to terms with the loss of his twin brother, and these three characters — man, woman and child — are teamed up, Iñárritu-style, with the most programmatic of writing. Marie and George live alone. George and Marcus have brothers. Marie and George have visions. And so forth.
We know that these characters will converge, like blips on a cosmic radar screen, and Eastwood skilfully toys with our expectations. An hour and three-quarters into this languorously staged film (even the performances are minimalistic, not so much cries as whispers), we are still wondering how and where George, Marie and Marcus are going to meet. One half of the audience has surely nodded off at the director's staunch refusal to play up the potentially juicy supernatural aspects — this is a story about the ethereal that stays resolutely earthbound.
But the others — the patient ones who deem this pace as inevitable; after all, it's only right in a story about souls trapped in a limbo that the scenes too float in a near-catatonic limbo, as weightless as those in the hereafter — get their reward in the form of a transcendent final stretch. When George finally meets Marie, they smile and shake hands to the accompaniment of soaring violins that, in another film, would have played under a rapturous liplock in a thunderstorm.
The reason for this minimal moment being so maximally underscored, I think, is that this is a director closer not only to the end of his career but also the hereafter. He, more than anyone else, knows that the small moment is as worthy of celebration as the grand gesture.
Genre: Supernatural drama
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Matt Damon, Cécile de France, Frankie McLaren
Storyline: A grave tale that grapples with what lies beyond the grave
Bottomline: A rewarding ride for the patient