Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Pale Hereafter

Afterlife in an airport terminal. 
Hereafter, the new Clint Eastwood film, opens powerfully with a tsunami sweeping through a tropical tourist town; this is kick-ass action filmmaking; scary, emotional, surprising. It blew me out of the water. The main character, though, Marie LeLay, a journalist well-played by Cecile de France, was blown into the water, where she was hurtled whitewater rapids style through the streets of the town. We see her lose consciousness as she drifts deeper, eyes open, through the surreal flooded world. It is an extraordinary experience--for her…and for us--sufficiently so to be life changing. By comparison, what happens next, when she is presumably dead, is just dull. She sees a bunch of foggy figures standing around in a kind of bright airport terminal; the look like they're waiting on line for nothing.

When she’s pulled away from the gate of death by a couple of medics, things get vivid again. But thereafter, she keeps referring to this amazing transformative experience that she insists can’t possibly be explained in any other way than by the existence of a hereafter. The only amazing experience we saw, though, was in the here…and that was very cool.  The “hereafter,” by comparison, was just a hardly-worth-writing-home-about dream.

And anyway, the experience people have just before they might have died says nothing more about death than conscious life does. Anyone who can describe a near-death experience didn’t die. Their heart and brain may have been in extraordinary states, which would explain their extraordinary experiences. But those states are no more like death than walking on the plank is like drowning.

I love a good movie about the afterlife; The Sixth Sense, for instance, is one of my favorites. So I was looking forward to Hereafter, which won singing reviews from the NYT and the SF Chronicle. If you want to know what the film is like, though, read David Denby’s thrashing in The New Yorker.


Molly Bentley said...

I agree - I wanted to like this movie, but I left so disappointed. While I do not believe in ghosts, I love a good ghost story - but Hereafter doesn't rise above popular myth about heaven: white light, people milling about, blurred images. The comedy "Defending Your Life" with Albert Brooks was more imaginative. And everything presented as an image of the hereafter can be explained - and has - by altered brain states.

Also, the psychic stuff - no different than the usual "cold reading" in which the "psychic" casts about until he/she makes a hit "I'm seeing the letter Okay, then W..."

Maybe this was a skeptic's movie after all!

Anonymous said...

I revisited "Jacob's Ladder" recently, and for me it stood the test of time.