Ebert is someone who knows a thing or two about life and death. It isn’t just his own experience with cancer that gives him this depth; it is also his natural curiosity and profound intellect.¬† While others can sometimes rely on their same old bag of tricks, Ebert seems to be thriving in this era of his writing career. There are a few people whose opinions matter in terms of the Oscar race. They matter because they are trusted sources. Many of our readers can’t forgive Ebert for choosing Crash over Brokeback Mountain, which seems silly to have even typed. But we all do evolve over time, and we come to realize how silly our own convictions were once and long ago. At any rate, Ebert and Ebert alone seems poised to put Hereafter on the right track, at least for now:
Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter considers the possibility of an afterlife with tenderness, beauty and a gentle tact. I was surprised how enthralling I found it. I don’t believe in woo-woo, but there’s no woo-woo anywhere to be seen. It doesn’t even properly suppose an afterlife, but only the possibility of consciousness after apparent death. This is plausible. Many near-death survivors report the same memories, of the white light, the waiting figures and a feeling of peace.
The subject lends itself to sensationalizing and psychic baloney. Eastwood has made a film for sensitive, intelligent people who are naturally curious about what happens when the shutters close. He tells three primary stories. Their three central characters meet at the end, but please don’t leap to conclusions. This is not one of those package endings where all the threads come together in a Coincidence that makes everything clear. They meet in a perfectly explicable and possible way, they behave as we feel they might, and everything isn’t tied up neatly. Instead, possibilities are left open in this world, which is as it should be, because we must live the lives we know and not count on there being anything beyond the horizon.
I said the film was made with tact. It is made with the reserve, the reluctance to take obvious emotional shortcuts, that is a hallmark of Eastwood as a filmmaker. This is the film of a man at peace. He has nothing to prove except his care for the story. The original screenplay is by Peter Morgan (who doesn’t, Eastwood told me, believe in psychic powers). He gives us Matt Damon as a man who seems actually able to have communication with the dead, but has fled that ability and taken a low-profile job; Cecile de France as Marie, a newsreader on French television; Bryce Dallas Howard as a young cooking student with a fearful dark place inside; Richard Kind as a man mourning his wife; and Frankie McLaren as Marcus, a young boy whose twin brother has been struck by a truck and killed.