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Review

Film explores life after death

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November 4, 2010

“Death is very likely the single best invention of life.” These words were spoken by someone at the 2005 Stanford university Commencement ceremony. Google it. You’ll probably be surprised. Watch the whole speech too while you’re at it. What the speaker was trying to get across was the idea that the uncertainty of death is the ultimate life affirmer. Or perhaps the speaker was saying that when people acknowledge and accept that life is one day going to end, they find that many of the meaningless restrictions they place on themselves are stripped away, leaving behind life’s real priorities.

I think that this quote does a good job of summing up the main idea presented in Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial project, “Hereafter.” The movie is the sum of three intertwining stories about a Parisian news anchor (Cecile De France), who has a near death experience while on vacation; a grade-school age Londoner (Frankie and George McLaren), who loses his brother and best friend in a car accident; and an unwilling psychic (Matt Damon), whose “gift” prevents him from living a normal, fulfilling life. The common theme to each story is death and uncertainty of what exactly happens when we die.

As he did with “Gran Torino” and “Million Dollar Baby,” Eastwood builds the movie around a fundamental pillar of the human condition. Also like his other movies, some of the performances and dialogue come off a little on the corny side, and the computer generated images aren’t of the highest quality either; though there were very few sequences that actually required them.

So what happens when you mix an impossibly unanswerable question, some cheesy acting and idealistic writing? A damn good movie, apparently.

I haven’t exactly pinned down how he does it, but Eastwood definitely has a knack for making well-done films about topics that would probably knock most directors on their bums.

“Hereafter” addresses a question that many of us put off thinking about but will eventually have to confront. A friend of mine recently told me she doesn’t like to think about death because it’s “icky.”

What it doesn’t do is try to ram religious, supernatural or any sort of answer down our throats. Instead the film focuses on the only thing we can really all identify with: the human reaction to death. This notion is made all the more relatable as much of the death is the result of unpredictable and large-scale events that will seem familiar if you’ve read any headlines within the past decade.

While we do get a few blurry glimpses of the hereafter, we are never explicitly told what it is, if it is real or just the result of brain trauma. The movie does imply that there is some existence beyond death, but it leaves all the characters — and us — in the dark about it.

Each character is forced to find a way deal with their inner turmoil and come away with not only a better understanding of death, but also, a better understanding of life.

Isn’t that what we should really be focusing on anyway?

Anthony Orlando is a math major and physics minor. He runs for the UW-River Falls cross country team. He once met Dan Auerbach and is a minor celebrity in Malaysia.