What happens when we die? Does our existence just end as if we were soulless blobs? Or is there a hereafter where we live on in some way, where we are reunited with our loved ones? Where, dare we say, we find God?

These are the questions that director Clint Eastwood (Invictus, Changeling) and scribe Peter Morgan (Frost.Nixon, The Queen) ask in Hereafter. In subtle but convincing ways, they even answer those questions. Skeptics can enjoy the movie as an excellent old-fashioned character-driven drama. While those who want to believe in the afterlife will find persuasive, albeit low-key confirmations. In other words, almost everyone can enjoy this film because it works, and works well, on several layers.

In essence, it’s the interwoven tale of three unrelated people who have different experiences with death and the hereafter.

While on vacation in Indonesia, Parisian TV journalist Marie LeLay (the radiant and oh so intelligent Cecile de France) is swept up in the horrifying waves of a tsunami. It’s a spectacular sequence and few other movies have created such a realistic large-scale disaster. You’ll find it impossible to forget.

Knocked unconscious, Marie is drowning. As she approaches the moment of death, she leaves her body and has a glimpse of the hereafter–a dreamy place of white light, peaceful and welcoming. Suddenly, she is pulled back into her body. She’s alive, but as her story unfolds, we see that her life has changed forever. Gradually, she loses interest in her high-powered career of unmasking politicians and dishonest corporate icons. Spurred by her near-death experience, she seeks out scientific proof of the afterlife. She is stunned to discover that scientists have been studying the death experience for over 25 years, but their findings have been systematically denied publication. Determined to help disseminate the message of hope that science has proven, Marie writes a book called Hereafter: A Conspiracy of Silence.

In San Francisco, bachelor George Lonegran (the reliable, appealing Matt Damon) is trying to live an anonymous life as a blue-collar worker. His ambitious brother however, wants George to revive his previous career as a celebrity medium who talked to the dead. But George doesn’t consider his talent a gift. To him it’s a curse. Just by touching a person’s hand, he has an instantaneous vision relating to death. He is unable to experience intimacy and feels oppressed by the constant presence of grief.

In an attempt to have a normal life, he takes an Italian cooking class where he meets Melanie (the incandescent Bryce Dallas Howard). Their sweet, tentative flirtation is excruciatingly lovely and George begins to hope that he has outlived his curse.

In London, young twin brothers Marcus and Jason (Frankie/George McLaren) survive their drug-addled mother’s negligence by clinging to one another. Jason, who always wears a baseball cap, goes alone on an errand for his mother. To escape street toughs who harass him, Jason runs into the street, where he is struck and killed by an oncoming truck. Marcus is totally devastated by his brother’s death. His grief is the inarticulate pain of a child and it will break your heart. To keep his brother with him every moment, he wears Jason’s cap.

At the subway station one day the cap falls off and keeps being kicked away by the feet of rushing passengers. By the time Marcus retrieves the cap and places it firmly back on his head, he has missed getting on the train. Seconds later the train is blown to bits by a terrorist bomb. Convinced that his brother saved his life by pushing off his cap, Marcus becomes obsessed with talking to him. He seeks out many different psychics, all of whom prove to be frauds. But Marcus remains convinced that out there, somewhere, someone will help him communicate with Jason.

You’ve identified so much with the characters and are rooting for each of them to find happiness, that when they all meet improbably in London–chance? fate? God?–you have an irrepressible sense of satisfaction. It’s so pleasurable to watch a movie whose previews promised a touching story–and it actually delivered. Will it convince you of the existence of a hereafter? If you want it to.

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