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The Eternally Boring Hereafter

by Michael Shermer, Nov 02 2010

A review of Clint Eastwood’s film Hereafter

/// ATTENTION! Spoiler Alert! ///

After a string of highly successful and critically acclaimed films by Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, Invictus, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, etc.), I fully expected his latest, Hereafter, to be so well written (screenplay by Peter Morgan—Frost/Nixon, The Queen) and so compelling that stories about near-death experiences would skyrocket and that I would be preoccupied for months dealing with media inquiries about “true stories” of the hereafter. Alas, and with some relief, this will not happen as Hereafter is possibly the worst film Eastwood has ever directed.

If the hereafter is anything like its filmic namesake, then it will turn out to be glacially slow, eternally boring, and pointless, with seemingly random plot lines aimlessly wandering about the ethereal landscape. I wanted to like this film, despite my skepticism on its subject, because I like Clint Eastwood productions and I’m a sucker for a well-produced story, able and willing to suspend disbelief long enough to get emotionally involved. I tried but failed to do so with this film. It’s a bomb. Don’t bother to see it in the theaters, and don’t even waste a couple of bucks on a Netflix rental.

The only redeeming part of the film was the striking opening scene of the tsunami in Southeast Asia that sets the background for the first plot line. An attractive French reporter leaves her lover in their hotel room to go shopping for his kids among the street vendors below. When he hears a disturbing sound and looks out the window he sees the ocean receding, followed by a massive body of water rushing back in to the shore and slamming into buildings and leveling everything in its path. From the woman’s street level view tucked in among buildings she can only see trees felling and chaos approaching with only enough time to realize that there is no time to do anything about it. She is swept up in the tsunami’s leading edge and slammed about cars, building debris, trees, and the like, until she is whacked on the head unconscious. Cut to minutes later when she is being given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by rescuers, to no avail. They give up and move on to the next victim, whereupon she comes to life, after a brief encounter with the hereafter, which Eastwood portrays as a fuzzy, nebulous place with people walking about aimlessly. It’s a portent of things to come.

The second plot line is Matt Damon’s psychic character George, a former psychic who gave up fame and riches because his “gift” is also a curse. A cross between James Van Praagh and John Edward, George concedes to a reading for a client of his sleazy brother (Jay Mohr) and scores several hits. The brother encourages George to quit his job at a San Francisco dock and return to the psychic world, but he will have none of it as it’s just too emotionally traumatic to read people’s inner thoughts (that much I suspect is true, if any of it were true, which it isn’t). Matt Damon’s love interest is the beautiful Bryce Dallas Howard, whom he meets at a cooking class, but after nearly an hour’s worth of romantic buildup to some sort of coming together, she departs the film for good after George reads her and conveys the message that her deceased father is sorry for the naughty things he did to her as a young girl.

The third plot line develops around 12-year old twins named Marcus and Jason, who live with their drug-addicted mother in London, England. Jason is hit by a car and killed, leaving Marcus to wander about the city in search of a psychic who can connect him to his brother. Here at least Eastwood had the good sense to depict what most psychics are like—scammers and flimflam artists conning their marks out of a few bucks by talking twaddle with the dead through standard cold-reading techniques. Marcus is dismayed by the idiocy of these pretenders and finally returns to the foster home where he struggles to keep his sanity.

For an hour and forty-five minutes all three of these plot lines run parallel, leaving audience members to wonder when—oh please when?!—will they finally be brought together. Finally, after what feels like an interminable marathon of tedium, George quits his job and takes a vacation in London to visit the home of his favorite author, Charles Dickens. While there he notices a flyer for a lecture about Dickens at a book fair in London, where, per chance, the French reporter is doing a signing for her new book on life after death, which she was inspired to write after an hour and a half of futzing around with her mundane reporter’s job distracted by her experience with the hereafter in the tsunami. By chance, little Marcus finds himself drawn to the book fair where he recognizes George from his web page photos, and begs him for a reading, which he finally gets. Naturally, George is better than those phony psychics, and Marcus encourages George to seek out the French woman so that they may all connect to the dead. George and Marie find a love connection as well and the story ends happily ever after.

Never have I been so relieved for a movie to end. There was one memorable moment, however, and that was the opening line of the opening trailer before Hereafter even started. The trailer was for a January 2011 release called The Rite, staring Anthony Hopkins as an American priest who travels to Italy to study at an exorcism school. (You can watch the trailer here). The line that rather caught my attention as I was settling into my seat, was, “You know the interesting thing about skeptics?” To which I blurted out “No, what?” The answer: “It’s that we’re always looking for proof. The question is, What on earth would we do with it if we found it?” I know what I do with proof when I find it. I publish it! Another character in the trailer then says “I believe people prefer to lie to themselves than face the truth.”

Here, then, in this trailer is the message for belief in the hereafter. If there were proof of it, we would publish it to the high heavens. But, since there isn’t, most people prefer to lie to themselves about it rather than face the truth that it is what we do in this life that counts.

44 Responses to “The Eternally Boring Hereafter”

  1. Ryan Benson says:

    Thank you for saving my wife and I 20 bucks, Michael; we were going to tonight. Do you happen to have a review for Jackass 3D?

  2. CrookedTimber says:

    Thanks, won’t waste my time.
    I have been disappointed with Clint’s other recent films as well. For all the hype around Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino, I thought they were a little predictable and stale. I did enjoy Flags of Our Fathers though.

  3. Al Morrison says:

    Didn’t think this one was going to be any good. Thanks for the heads up on The Rite. That looks like it may be worth $10 admission.

  4. Jesse Young says:

    I must respectfully disagree, Gran Torino was a masterpiece if I ever saw one. Also, Shermer forgot to mention Mystic River which is great too. Its a shame Eastwood decided to go with such nonsense. Though if it was actually an excellent film would that have been a good thing? As noted above, there’d be such a wave of interest sparked in the ‘hereafter’ if it was a must-see.

  5. MadScientist says:

    I wonder when it will be available on those long flights …

    Belief in an afterlife is a dangerous delusion, even if a person is not necessarily promised 62 virgins.

    • Sean Boyd says:

      Hey, I was promised 73 virgins when they first tried to sign me up. How in the WORLD do they expect to woo me over if they lower their offer?

      • tmac57 says:

        Hey, the economy is really bad! We all have to make some…er sacrifices? Tighten that belt Sean.

  6. I’ll still watch it. I figure Eastwood is entitled to produce something that isn’t on par with his best work from time to time. Unlike M Knight Shyamalan who seriously needs to stop making movies. As a horror fan, it pains to me add Romero to the list of people who simply need to stop.

  7. Jay says:

    At first glance, I confused the 5/5 article rating with a film rating :)

  8. Marsha Doyle says:

    I agree, Michael. I could not stop yawning after the first thirty minutes! I hate films that tease with heart-stopping action at first and then die a slow, boring death. Bored to death watching a movie about death…

  9. Skepacabra says:

    At least Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” was refreshingly skeptical.

  10. Sylvia says:

    Oh,rats! No, it certainly doesn’t sound worth an AUS $15. I’ll still think about whether or not to see it – but I’m a grumpy type of ‘sucker’. I’ve been on this planet a sad and scary number of decades so far, and still I’ve never seen a good ‘Hereafter’ yarn. Maybe we should collectively write one – something that we skeptics would love.

  11. Carl Strange says:

    Sixty-two virgins? Waaaait. I thought it was seventy-two. The hereafter just isn’t what it used to be.

  12. Doug says:

    I wish I’d read this first. My wife and I walked out halfway through. Most boring movie I’ve almost seen.

  13. nancy says:

    Huh. To think Roger Ebert LOVED this movie………..I thought maybe with Eastwood’s drecting, the worst storyline would be salvagable, but maybe not.

  14. Ala'a says:

    (Sigh!). I watched it last week, and I TOTALLY agree with your review, with one exception: when you reported that “Hereafter is possibly the worst film Eastwood has ever directed”, I’d remove the word “possibly”! IMHO, this is indeed the worst picture connected with the venerable Mr. Eastwood, and I haven’t forgotten that chimp flick!

  15. The problem with the afterlife is having no thumbs. Makes for a very boring existence.

    Now I plan to restructure the afterlife. Please check out the First Church of Chocolate!

    Come one, come all true chocolate lovers! I say unto you, verily thou shalt partakest of the divine gift of chocolate today, and in the afterlife thou shalt never gain an ounce nor sufferest the indignity of zits!

  16. opinionated old fart says:

    Imagine what these women look like if they made it all the way to the afterlife with their virginity intact. Reminds me of the dirty tricks that the devil (Peter Cook) kept playing on Dudley Moore in the original “Bedazzled”.

  17. Perhaps Eastwood was taking a cue from that great pop sage, David Byrne:

    ah, heaven
    heaven is a place
    a place where nothing
    nothing ever happens

  18. Tony Q. King says:

    Better you should go out and rent Dean Spanley .
    Now, THERE is a good movie about the Hereafter!
    Actually it’s more of a movie about the Herebefore.

    And make sure you have a bottle of Tokay to sip from as you watch it.

  19. John King says:

    it’s the curse of Bryce Dallas Howard, who is a beautiful woman, a sweet actress, but can not pick a winning movie. Such a shame!

  20. Lani says:

    I wholeheartedly concur with this assessment. I was really excited to see this movie, but I was so disappointed. A total waste of 20 bucks and two hours. I feel compelled to go see a really good movie now just to negate my Hereafter experience.

  21. Lester Ballard says:

    Clint is pushing 80. Mortality is staring him right in the face. No surprise here.

  22. Beelzebud says:

    And don’t even get me started on The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly! Everyone knows you can’t shoot a revolver that fast!

    I try not to let my skepticism and critical thinking ruin fiction for me.

  23. thanks for the review, Mike. I really wanted to see the film, and now I will skip it. I don’t like Matt Damon anyway.
    You guys, don’t write off shyamalon (sp?) just yet. “Signs” was good. “6th sense” was good. “The village” was good. I don’t know what drugs he’s on, but he just needs to tweak the prescription and he will be OK again, even brilliant.

  24. Shawn S. says:

    “I believe people prefer to lie to themselves than face the truth.”

    Well that’s certainly true. Just ironic when coming out of the mouth of a believer in demonic possession.

  25. Why do we have to be the ones trying to contact the dead and why do we need psychics to make the connection?
    Why do dead people trust psychics, and why do the dead people always leave so abruptly, sometimes just at the juicy section of their monologue through the medium? And why are the dead people always “okay”?

  26. Keno Nash says:

    Thanks for your review. Now I’ll be sure to see the movie! There’s nothing worse than some half baked critic telling the rest of us what we don’t need to see. Perhaps because of the subject matter you feel you have some special insights to share. You don’t. If, as a film critic, you think this movie sucks, it’s probably good. Comparing it to what you feel are Eastwood’s ‘good’ films certainly doesn’t make me feel you have any idea what you’re talking about. Why should I care about YOUR opinion on drama? After ‘Unforgiven’, most of Eastwood’s films have been emotionally draining. He casts characters into impossible situations, then brings out the worst in all of them. Some people think of this as art. I think it’s one drag after another with often laughable results, if the subject matter wasn’t so seriously grim. I respect your opinions when it comes to questioning wacky claims. I don’t understand why you haven’t been given a shot at your own cable show by now. Something like- “Hunted; Tracking down tales of the Haunted.” Two things you should simply stay away from, though. Religion, and the reviewing of films.

    • John Greg says:

      And politics. Don’t forget politics.

    • tmac57 says:

      Well,Keno,now that you have thrown down the gauntlet, will you please go see the movie,and report back with an honest opinion.And don’t let your statements here color what you really think about the movie (make sure they’re fully baked).This should be interesting.

  27. I am going to see it, and i heard that particular view before “Science would be all over it”. Mainstream science never bothers to deal with it because none of the evidence produced for life after death is compatible with Naturalism.

  28. Keno Nash says:

    Four months ago I questioned Micheal Shermer’s review of Clint Eastwood’s film, “Hereafter”. TMAC57 said I’d thrown down the gauntlet and challenged me to write an honest review of my own. Well, I’m back, and hope I have enouch space to post it. (Review of Hereafter) Was, “Urban Cowboy”, about a bunch of yahoos riding a mechanical bull, or a reflection of young married life in the seventies? Was, “Boyz in the Hood”, about gangbangers, or family life and friendship in South Central L.A.? “Hereafter” isn’t so much about life after death, as it is about three unhappy people trying to put their lives back together. First there’s the French journalist, Marie Lelay, who has a near death experience surviving a tsunami, and finds herself consumed by it. Her work suffers, her relationship comes to an end, and she begins a book on politics, but changes course to write about life after death. Her title: “Hereafter, The Conspiracy of Silence”, is well chosen, but I’ll get back to that. Then there are the twin British boys, Marcus and Jason, living with a loving, but dysfunctional mother. Just at the point where it looks like Mum is going to give up drinking, Jason is killed in an accident, and Marcus goes off to a foster home. Finally there’s the American George, a true psychic who considers his gift a curse, though apparently he once made a living at it. His brother, not understanding his feelings on this, urges him to return to his psychic business. Most of the problem is how long it takes the story to develop, with the tsunami being the first of only three action scenes. This a thought provoking film, but it takes it’s own sweet time taking us where it wants to go. George, knowing he’s about to be laid off from his factory job, begins a night cooking course where he meets a woman from back east. There’s an instant attraction between the two, with a somewhat sexy scene involving a blindfolded taste test. George takes the woman home that night, already making it clear he prefers not to talk about his past profession. As they prepare a meal, George’s brother calls, and through the screened answering machine, the woman learns the truth. (One would think George would have leaped to answer the phone, but…)Of course she talks him into a reading he doesn’t want to give, and he tells the woman her father is sorry for having molested her. End of relationship for George. God only knows what horrors he’d have seen had they made it to the bedroom! Back to Marcus the British lad, sleeping near his brother’s urn, wearing his hat, and not doing too well. He’s put into a foster home, but things remain bleak. Stealing money from his foster parents, he goes to see a series of psychics, who are of course, a predictive bunch of phonies. While in the subway, his brother’s hat blows off his head, and by the time he catches it, the train has left. A moment later it is destroyed by a terrorist’s bomb. Saved by chance… or was he? Cut back to the French journalist interviewing Hospice staffers. They’re true believers, and she’s resolved to write her book. At first her agents demand their money back, but finally agree to her project. Now, back to George again. His brother has talked him into going back into the psychic business, but George bails at the last moment. Lonely, somewhat bitter, he travels to England for a tour. And there, finally, is where the story all comes together. At a book fair George sees the french woman, Marie LeLay, signing her new book, but before he can meet her, he’s cut off at the pass by young Marcus who’s seen him on his internet site. George trys to brush him off, finally does, but by then Marie is gone. George goes back to his hotel where Marcus stands outside well into the night. Finally George gives in, takes him upstairs, and does the reading. This is the real deal. Almost no leading. Marcus is convinced he’s in contact with his dead brother, who gives a vague, but happy report from the other side. He tells him he was the one who threw off his hat in the subway, and lucky he did says he, so apparently his dead twin didn’t see the bombing about to happen. His final message? I’m okay, you’re not, stop wearing my hat, and get on with your life. First issue resolved. Marcus senses he’s mucked things up for George with Marie, finds out where she’s staying, and calls George with the information. The two rapidly meet, shake hands, (George gets no flashes from her), and they hit it off. Two more lives apparently resolved. Marcus even gets to visit with his Mum again. Everything is good. A happy ending from Eastwood- really? Oh happy day! So, was this film as bad as The Sherm-Man said? I don’t think so. It made some interesting points. First, many Hospice workers have strong beliefs about the afterlife. When my Mother was recently dying, they gave my sister a lot of information they’d written about my mother’s impending journey to the next life. I finally got nasty with them, not because I’m closed minded to the idea, but because I felt trained registered nurses had no business injecting their ideas into anything other than medical problems. Second, every psychic I’ve met was portrayed with accuracy, except George of course. The leading questions, the search for cues, the changes in body language by their clients. (Gosh how I love to mess with card readers at some of the parties I attend!) Third, and perhaps most important, the film makes the point that scientists trying to conduct research in this field are shunned by others, and often attacked by people like Shermer. I’m sure the Sherm-Man is pre-disposed to reject such research, let alone any findings. Add quantum mechanics to the mix, and I can almost see his lip curling with disgust. I think he was so prejudiced before seeing this film, he didn’t even realise the afterlife was simply a prop used to tell another story. It was done in the films I’ve mentioned. It was done in, “Signs”, a story about faith, not aliens. He even complains about the way Eastwood portrayed the other side. Well… I don’t think that’s really what the film was even about. Did the story move too slowly? Big time! And Eastwood’s musical score sounded like leftovers from several of his recent films. But is this his worst film ever? Not in my book. Oh, no…I reserve that claim for- well, whatever. If I were going to grade this film, I’d give it a (C). I don’t think Micheal Shermer should review films about subjects he likes to debunk. I don’t think he should review films at all. The Sherm-Man has more important things to do. Besides, anyone can write a review!

    • tmac57 says:

      Thanks for taking up the challenge Keno,and for the review.A grade of C doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation,but if it comes up on the Netflix instant watch list,I will be sure to watch it and see where I would place it.
      P.S. I went back and re-read Shermer’s review,and it seems to me that his criticism had almost nothing to do with the subject matter,but that the story was very tedious,which you appear to agree with.I have a problem with Shermer’s movie reviews when he tries to put a political spin on them.