Hereafter – Movie Review
Review by: Stacey Tuttle
What do you think happens when we die?” This is the central question of Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Hereafter. It’s an important question and probably deserves more attention than the average human gives it. As such, the movie provides an easy opportunity to bring up the topic without putting the questionee on the immediate defensive as they wait for you to launch into the Four Spiritual Laws or any number of Evangelism Explosion witnessing tactics. (Those have their place, don’t get me wrong!) So, let’s look at how the movie approaches the answer and compare that to how the Bible answers it.
Hereafter centers around three people who have had encounters with death. Two of those had near death experiences which “gifted” them in some way. George can now “connect” with those in the afterlife (i.e. he is a psychic). Marie LeLay experienced the afterlife and can now offer that knowledge to others. Marcus’ experience was different. He didn’t experience death himself, but rather he lost his twin brother and is searching for confirmation that his brother is still around.
Marcus’ search for answers takes him on a wild ride through a myriad of religions and through numerous charlatans, fakes and scams. Despite the discouragement, he presses on, knowing there must be an answer out there. I wonder how many “Marcus’s” there are in the world? How many people truly are searching desperately for answers – searching through all the fakes, all the religions, all the false prophets, desperate to find the truth, and certain it really exists?
In this movie, Marcus finds George. George isn’t a fake. He doesn’t use his “gift” to take advantage of people and their money. On the contrary, he is so burdened by it, he refuses to practice anymore. George’s ability comes from his own near death experience which somehow connected him with the afterlife. George has some real answers – well, sort of. He at least has real answers for Marcus about his brother – that his brother continues to exist, is OK, and has some advice for him.
George’s answers fall short when Marcus asks him where his brother is. George confesses that, after all the readings, all the experience he has had with the dead, he still has no idea. Well, that may be disappointing, but it’s honest. And it’s the ring of honesty and sincerity that is perhaps most touching about Hereafter. And frankly, it’s that same ring of honesty and sincerity that people who are truly seeking most need to find in Christians. They don’t need us to promise all the answers. They need us to point them TO the answer, and when we fall short, to be just as sincere and humble and honest as George Lonegan was. Marcus saw through all the false promises of the religious leaders and he ended up following the one man who promised nothing and confessed his shortcomings…because he was humble and honest. Fellow Christian, if you are like me, then we both have a lot to learn from that example.
Marie is a journalist, a truth seeker and reporter. So, when she has her experience of the afterlife, the reporter in her needs to know more. She is compelled to find answers, no matter the cost. Again, I question how many people in the world are as compelled to find answers to their spiritual questions? Do we recognize them when we see them? Where do we get our answers? (Interestingly, Marie gets a significant answer from an atheist.) And are we as Christians truly prepared to, as I Peter 3:15 says, “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”?
I mentioned that Marie gets her answers from an atheist. This seems odd. An atheist, one who doesn’t believe in god, gave Marie her most compelling argument for believing in an afterlife This atheist is a hospice doctor who tells her that, “As a scientist and atheist, I was closed to such things [as life after death]. I assumed it was social pre-conditioning. But, accounts of people in hospice who experienced death, in unconsciousness, all were so similar, I can’t discredit it… The evidence is irrefutable. I tried.” It’s odd, but it’s also logical. You expect a religious person to believe in the afterlife. That’s part of being religious. But a skeptic, an atheist…they aren’t supposed to believe. They gain nothing by confessing a belief. In fact, it kind of discredits their unbelief. The doctor had nothing to gain by telling Marie of her beliefs. This makes her an honest voice, one that can be trusted. And this movie works hard to be or at least feel honest.
But, the subtle implications of the earnest beliefs and seekers in Hereafter is that the afterlife is for everyone, atheists, agnostics, Christians, Muslims…everyone. And not just that all experience a hereafter (Christians would agree with that part), but that all experience the SAME hereafter. It’s a hereafter described by weightlessness, bodies of light, quiet, peacefulness… This is the part Christians can’t agree with. In fact, most religions won’t agree..either with the description of the afterlife, or the inclusion of everyone in it. But, lest anyone get upset with the answers the movie provides, remember that George says he doesn’t know where anyone goes. There are answers, but they are about as fuzzy as the vision of the hereafter which Marie had. Vague impressions, nothing more.
In truth, I’m still not sure how much the movie wanted to actually answer its own questions. Certainly, it seemed to believe that all experience a hereafter. But there is a notable lack of theology. No “experts” are brought in to the discussion. No holy texts. I guess it’s hard to do that if you aren’t sure what side you are on. The movie is more like a bunch of agnostics sitting around pondering ideas about spirituality from their own experience. They have no grounding, no facts to lean on, no theology to guide them. The only reference to spiritual “experts” is to discredit some obvious fakes. And if your experience of religion has been limited to the fakes, it might be likely that you too would only want to seek advice from other “seekers” and even skeptics like yourself. As I said before, they don’t have anything to gain by convincing you to believe, so their testimony seems more credible. Perhaps that’s why the desperate, persistent, hopeful search of little Marcus was so touching. He was never so jaded by the false experts that he stopped looking for a real one.
On the surface, the movie concludes with George and Marie finally meeting…with romantic future implied. But it is more than that. George has been burdened with his knowledge of the afterlife. As he says, “A life about death is no life at all.” He feels his psychic abilities are a curse. (In fact, as a child he was labeled a schizophrenic, which raises some interesting questions about the medical field and how we recognize and/or treat various problems that may be spiritual in nature). George is haunted by touching people because it immediately connects him with the ghosts of their pasts…many of which are painful connections. To the contrary, Marie felt incredible peace in her near death experience. So, when they finally touch at the end, instead of George experiencing the pain of a death of one of Marie’s loved ones, he feels the peace that she felt when she “died.”
Maybe this is what Hereafter hopes to give its viewers overall—the overwhelming sense of peace in the face of so many unanswered questions. They don’t have answers. I mean, they suggest there is a positive afterlife experience to be had by all, but beyond that, “we don’t know” is the overwhelming conclusion. If Hereafter can’t offer answers, what does it offer? The encouragement to seek, and a feeling of peace. However, as a believer, I have to question where this sense of peace is supposed to come from in the face of so many unknowns.
This is where I am so thankful for the character of God. We can have peace in the midst of all our questions – and that peace comes from knowing and trusting in the character of God. God is kind, loving, good, in-control, all-powerful and all-knowing. This means I don’t have to understand it all, and when I don’t, I can trust in his nature and his ability. But, we don’t have to just blindly accept things. It’s the honesty and the earnestness of the true seekers in Hereafter which are so compelling, and it’s no different in real life. God is never afraid of our seeking – he encourages it! “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find!” “You will seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart.” “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” And why do we seek answers from Christ? Because he says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Because he offers not just peace, but answers, real answers.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
- Are you curious about the afterlife? What do you believe happens when you die?
- Do you feel that psychics are all charlatans, all real, some of both? Where do you feel that they get their power?
- Psychics: Are psychics charlatans, mentally ill, legitimate or some combination thereof? The Bible has a lot to say about mediums (which are often synonymous with psychics in the modern world): Deuteronomy 18:9-14, I Samuel, 28:7-ff, Isaiah 8:19-20, et.al. In every account, God forbids consulting with mediums. The movie shows “good” and “bad” mediums. Is there such a thing as a “good” medium? What do you think about Isaiah 5:20 which warns, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil”?
- Does behavior on earth have something to do with our experience of the afterlife? The Bible clearly teaches that it does, but that it’s not about what we’ve done…it’s about Who we’ve trusted (Hebrews 9:27-28, 2 Corinthians 1:8-10).
- Is there overwhelming evidence of people’s experience of death (near-death experiences, etc.) and if so, is that evidence truly as consistent and positive as the movie suggests?
- Is theology important in your understanding of the afterlife, or can you, like the atheist Dr. and the agnostic seekers in Hereafter, arrive at “truth” about the afterlife without it?
- Do you know people who are truly seeking answers? Are you able to point them honestly to the Truth? Are you able to admit when you don’t know the answers, or do you feel a need to have all the answers?
- Are you willing to keep seeking even after you run into a host of charlatans, false prophets and fakes? Are you willing, like Marcus to keep seeking out the “experts” or do you then turn to the skeptics for the only answers you will trust?
- Do your views of God affect your understanding of the afterlife, or can you, like the atheist doctor and the agnostic seekers in Hereafter, arrive at “truth” about the afterlife without a view of God? Whether your religious or not, the only way to really know anything about the afterlife is to go there yourself…or talk to someone who has gone and come back. History records Jesus of Nazareth did exactly that: he died and came back three days later (Acts 13:30, Romans 6:9). Who better to know what the afterlife is really like?
 Matthew 7:7
 Jeremiah 29:13
 James 1:5
 John 14:6
 I Peter 3:15-16
 Technically, a psychic is supposed to be someone with powers of perception that go beyond the normal senses, whereas a medium is someone who serves as a conduit for spirits. Though the two types are distinct in definition, it is often the case that psychics claim to channel spirits and mediums claim to have extrasensory perception. For this reason, the association between psychics and mediums is quite close.