Hereafter is the story of three people touched by death.
Marie Lelay is an investigative journalist on vacation in Indonesia with her producer/lover. It is their last morning before returning to Paris, and she realizes her companion has not gotten any souvenirs for his kids. She tells him she is going shopping for them and asks him to come along, but he just wants to sleep as long as he can. As she is running her self-appointed errand, a tsunami strikes. She drowns, and then we're...somewhere else...with her. Back in our world, a couple of strangers try, and fail, to revive her, but she comes back on her own. Changed.
Marcus is a young boy, ten, maybe eleven. He seems a little ethereal to begin with, sweet, slight. His twin Jason, always wearing a cap, decisive, is Marcus' anchor in this world. In fact, Jason is the anchor of his family. We first see them getting their picture struck, paying the photographer with change scraped together dearly. Then, at home, they put the framed picture and a cupcake topped with a single candle out on the kitchen table, a birthday surprise for their Mum. She never shows up before they go to bed. The first thing we see the next morning is the photo and the cupcake, with the candle melted down all over it. The first thing we here is a loud knock on the door, followed by shouts demanding entrance. It's child protective services. Mum, you see, is a heroine addict. The twins, with Marcus following Jason's lead, work around the social workers, cleaning up the apartment, finding Mum and bringing her in the door just after the social worker, with bags of groceries. See, all is right with our world!
Once the social workers are gone, Mum sees the picture her boys made for her. Even as she's still coming down off her latest high, we see that she does love her sons and is trying. She says something about a drug that may help her kick the addiction. Jason -- strong, decisive Jason -- calls the chemist (we're in London), determines that he has the medicine, instructs Marcus to stay with Mum, and runs off to get help for Mum.
After he has gotten the medicine and is on his way home, Jason is accosted by some neighborhood toughs. "What's with the cap? What's in the bag? It's the basic we're bigger, we're bored, and you're our toy attitude. Only this time, Jason runs! But Jason can't outrun the lorry on the street. Unlike after Marie's drowning, no one tries to revive Jason. Marcus knows with a twin's certainty that something wrong has befallen his other half. When he arrives on the scene, he finds Jasosn' unbloodied cap, picks it up, dons it. He, too, is changed.
Those who sacrifice for others, it seems, are sacrificed along the way.
George Lonegan is a very rare thing, a genuine psychic. He can actually see that somewhere else Marie went while she was dead, and he can tell people the Truth. His brother Billy considers this a gift, something that is a license to print money. George considers it a curse, because the Truth sets him apart. And that being set apart is why he works as a longshoreman and takes a cooking class. His love of Charles Dickens is simply his own.
Every other "psychic" we see in the movie, and we see quite a few, is a charlatan. They each put on a show with scientific gadgets or candles and shadows or limited seating seminars when they're doing a reading or contacting the other side; it's all smoke and mirrors. George simply asks whomever he is reluctantly reaching beyond the veil for to let him hold their hands for a moment. "It makes a connection, and that helps", he tells them.
From this set up, we see how Marie moves from a hard-hitting journalist after her next expose to a seeker, asking "What happens to us when we die?"; how Marcus, wearer of his twin's cap and resident of the foster care system, persists in trying to reach Jason to tell him that he can't do this life alone and needs him back; how George is seeking connections. And we see how their stories eventually intertwine. This is where George is changed, not by death, but by life.
Of the actors, it's worth noting that Jay Mohr as Billy Lonegan plays an excellent sleaze. And Matt Damon...the man is a chameleon. I believe in him as totally as George Lonegan as I do in him as Jason Bourne.
The movie is paced slowly, deliberately, in a way that reminds me of Gattaca. Other than the tsunami and the car accident, there is no action, which is hard to believe of a Clint Eastwood directed movie. And, in the tsunami, where it awkwardly overruns those trying to flee it, we see that Eastwood is not at all at ease with CGI special effects.
The movie is all exposition and character study. As Lisa put it when we were talking about it, "I was expecting some great revelation."
You see, despite the advertising, Hereafter has next to nothing to do with the supernatural. That's a head fake, in the spirit of Randy Pausch's Last Lecture. This movie has to do with curiosity, persistence, integrity and connections. It's about how to live.