It’s interesting to see the growth of the “hyperlink cinema” filmmaking style over the past decade. In an age where we often feel so isolated and alone, living out just our own story, these movies that manage to intertwine multiple apparently unrelated storylines fill us with a sense that we actually are connected with everyone in the world around us.
The latest entry in this style comes from writer Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon”) and director Clint Eastwood, “Hereafter,” a musing on the nature of life and death in modern times. Eastwood, who has made a name directing gritty movies, would seem to be the last person to take on such a project. Yet at 80, his age and experience give the movie an overarching sense of peace and placidity.
In one sense, “Hereafter” is more focused than more sprawling movies like “Crash” and “Traffic,” which attempt to weave together what feels like dozens of characters in the course of two hours. Morgan gets us well acquainted with three principal figures spread across three countries.
George Lonengan, played with composure by Matt Damon, has the ability to talk to the departed but struggles to maintain control over their intrusion into the way he lives his life. There’s the age-old “gift vs. curse” dialectic haunting him as well, and it has forced him to resign himself to factory labor in San Francisco.
Marie, a subtly affecting Cecile de France, makes contact with the hereafter when she nearly drowns in the 2004 Indonesian tsunami. Her experience sticks with her when she goes back to her job as a news anchor in Paris, and it’s obvious to everyone around her that she has something more than mere survivor’s guilt. Trying to move on but unable to let go of her experience, her views of what awaits us after death lock her into a “faith vs. reason” debate that has accompanied countless discussions of heaven.
In London, a touching and hard-hitting story of mourning arises after death separates Jason and Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren), leaving the latter feeling left behind and alone. With a mother addicted to drugs, he feels he has nowhere to turn to but the supernatural. Whether Marcus seeks companionship or closure is left much to the audience’s imagination, but no matter what the goal is, it’s an emotional journey.
While each of these stories is captivating in their own way, and had each arc been their own movie, I would have felt completely satisfied by Eastwood and Morgan’s work. However, the intersection of the three just feels forced and borders on implausibility. In hyperlink cinema, the connection is what makes the movie’s ultimate point come across to the audience, and this crucial aspect of “Hereafter” is unfortunately very lacking.
I’m not in the camp that believes that a movie has to spoon-feed us its message, but Morgan doesn’t seem to leave us with many questions about the hereafter worth serious discussion or debate. Perhaps most blatantly obvious was his blatant avoidance of incorporating religion into his vision. I’m not saying that there has to be a single religion espoused by Morgan, but leaving religion out almost entirely is just cold-hearted. Every religion has something to say about the afterlife; for many, it is their purpose. And without even recognizing this, whatever message “Hereafter” might have is dulled by this inescapable void.
In hyperlink cinema, one might say there exists a formula that the final product is equal to the sum of its parts. However, Eastwood’s “Hereafter” in total feels like less. B /