Hereafter is a movie that deals with the intriguing question, “What happens when we die?” It weaves together the story of three people: a successful woman who has a near-death experience (NDE) after nearly drowning, a young boy who loses his twin brother in an accident, and a reluctant psychic who has strong abilities to “read” people and channel messages from their deceased loved ones, but who sees his gift as a curse and is loathe to use it.
The story is touching, poignant and well told. The plight of the young boy is easily the most heart-wrenching of the three storylines. He is totally lost without his brother, and we feel his pain sharply. He is tossed into a foster home after the accident due to his mother’s alcoholism and inability to care for him, so he has not only his brother’s death to deal with, but the trauma of an unfamiliar life with strangers. He takes to wearing his brother’s baseball cap as a security blanket, and is generally despondent and grief-stricken. He steals money to visit psychics he finds on the internet in an attempt to talk to his brother, most of whom are frauds and leave him even more disillusioned.
Marie, the woman who has the NDE, is both distracted and intrigued by her experience and finds it hard to concentrate on her work. She, like the boy, needs answers. She takes a leave from her job to research NDE phenomena, and writes a book on the subject. While her lover and employer find it all to be nonsense, she knows there is something to it and won’t give up, even at the cost of these relationships.
George is the psychic. While his powers are strong, they make him feel like a freak and somewhat embarrass him. He feels they rob him of a chance at a normal life, but his compassion for others often trumps his reluctance to use them. While this has disastrous results with a new love interest, it ultimately proves to be healing for the boy and Marie – as well as himself.
I found little fault with this film, except perhaps the large amount of French dialogue (the Marie storyline takes place in Paris). While there are of course subtitles, and while French is a pretty language that I’m a little familiar with, the subtitles did become a bit of an effort. Matt Damon is wonderful as George, especially when he’s doing readings and explaining nervously to his date how he came to have his abilities. The disaster sequence at the beginning of the movie is awe-inspiring to watch – I haven’t seen a disaster on this scale and done with such detail and realism since the movie Titanic. The cinematography is crisp, and the music, some of it by the film’s director, Clint Eastwood, adds nicely to the atmosphere. Highly recommended.