I explored aspects of this film – primarily, the idea of the hereafter or afterlife in general – in a post on my personal blog.  Obviously by reading this, I don’t find much credence in the societal ideas of the afterlife, that being Christianity and Islam (the movie also disposes of them as well).  Rather, the afterlife, if there is one, is rather muted, to the point of nonexistence.  People would argue against a notion, either because they’ve experienced the afterlife first hand from a near death experience, or because people need the afterlife to know that their loved ones aren’t living in hell or eternal darkness.

The film presents the afterlife in the question of whether one exists, and arranges its characters and plot lines as such.  George (Damon) has a gift – or curse, as he sees it – that allows him to find people in the afterlife by touching people with his hands.  He worked as a psychic before becoming overwhelmed by what he saw, and realizing that he would never have a normal life because of his abilities.  Marie (France) was on vacation in Thailand when a tsunami strikes (the movies incorporates actual real world events quite well) and left her nearly dead for a short amount of time.  It was enough to let her wander in the hereafter, and after this experience wishes to understand more about the afterlife.  Lastly, Marcus and Jason are twins in London, helping their mother try to recuperate from a drug addiction.  Jason dies after being struck by a car, leaving Marcus distraught and lost, trying to figure out what he should do with himself after his twin brother’s death.

If there’s anything that’s clear in what I wrote before and what should be expected, it’s that there are no definite answers to what the afterlife is.  That, to me, is a very satisfying presentation.  Life isn’t easy, which is why we have these notions of a beautiful afterlife, to give comfort to ourselves once we die.  The film understands this with several of the characters (both main and supporting) having to deal with the effects of losing a loved one and hoping to reconnect with them in some way.  Some are able to move on (George’s first reading, the one shown in the trailer, does it just to see if George is the real deal or not), while others, not so much, often to crippling effect.  How we deal with death often defines us as well for the majority of our lives.

Focusing on the movie as a movie, it by and large works.  The final act is a little too tidy in bringing the plot lines together, and the pacing is occasionally slow.  The ending is also low key, especially compared to the grandness of the opening minutes (the tsunami mainly), but it works because it closes out that portion of each character’s arc.  The acting is fine throughout, though the McLaren twins are rough at times (this isn’t the first time Eastwood has used young non-actors: see Gran Torino).  And the film is hopeful too, imploring action over inaction, forwardness over being stuck in time.  It’s challenging and mature, as all films should be with this subject matter.

B+

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