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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Hereafter

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Oscar winner Matt Damon stars in Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter."
Director Clint Eastwood takes on one of life's most essential questions in "Hereafter" (Warner Bros.). His ambitious drama charts the ultimately intersecting paths of three individuals all seeking enlightenment about what, if anything, follows for us after we die. But, while Eastwood manages to weave these initially disparate strands into an emotionally compelling tapestry, the result also is religiously problematic.

The first of the trio of plotlines follows Parisian TV journalist Marie LeLay (Cecile de France). While on vacation with her boyfriend, and producer, Didier (Thierry Neuvic)—a possibly still-married father of young children whose hotel bedroom she shares—Marie becomes a victim of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, an event stunningly and frighteningly re-created here.

By the time she's rescued, Marie has had a near-death experience that fundamentally shakes her purely secular worldview.

Across the globe in San Francisco, George Lonegan (Matt Damon) has abandoned his lucrative career as a medium in favor of a low-paying factory job.

George regards his ability to communicate with the dead—this supernatural endowment is given a quasi-natural explanation in a later scene—as a curse rather than a gift. So when he strikes up a romance with Bay Area newcomer Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), he does his best to prevent her from discovering it.

Set in a working-class public housing area of London, the third thread of the story concerns preteen twins Marcus and Jacob (George and Frankie McLaren). Deeply devoted to each other, and to their alcohol- and drug-addicted mother, Jackie (Lyndsey Marshal), the boys live in fear of being taken away by the authorities, and conspire quite effectively to conceal Jackie's ongoing problems.

When an auto accident claims Jacob's life, the devastated Marcus embarks on a quest to reconnect with his ever-protective, minutes-older sibling. Viewers are likely to feel the loss of Jacob almost as keenly as the characters onscreen, so skillful are Eastwood and the young McLarens in winning sympathetic engagement.

Peter Morgan's script unhesitatingly affirms the existence of an afterlife, portrayed in several brief scenes as a light-filled but strangely cold and limbolike state. This in itself is no small risk since—as Marie discovers when she writes a book about her newfound belief in immortality—the bare assertion of such an idea in supposedly sophisticated circle seems to invite ridicule.

But, on all related topics, the film goes well beyond mere nondenominationalism, insistently steering clear of any specific beliefs. Even the existence of God is left a matter of ambiguity.

Issues of morality and the eternal consequences of earthly actions are also skirted, the vague implication being that all human beings end up in the same condition after death. Marcus implicitly rejects the message of an online preacher's YouTube video proclaiming salvation through belief in Jesus. And the context equates the minister's ideas with those of an imam who's gone online.

As for the exercise of George's unique power, it is shown to have as many negative as positive effects. Still, it's not clear how his behavior can be reconciled with the Scripture-based Christian duty to shun occult practices.

The film contains complex religious issues, an alcoholism and drug-addiction theme, fleeting upper female nudity, a nonmarital, possibly adulterous situation and at least one rough and a few crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


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Thomas Aquinas: By universal consent, Thomas Aquinas is the preeminent spokesman of the Catholic tradition of reason and of divine revelation. He is one of the great teachers of the medieval Catholic Church, honored with the titles Doctor of the Church and Angelic Doctor. 
<p>At five he was given to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino in his parents’ hopes that he would choose that way of life and eventually became abbot. In 1239 he was sent to Naples to complete his studies. It was here that he was first attracted to Aristotle’s philosophy. </p><p>By 1243, Thomas abandoned his family’s plans for him and joined the Dominicans, much to his mother’s dismay. On her order, Thomas was captured by his brother and kept at home for over a year. </p><p>Once free, he went to Paris and then to Cologne, where he finished his studies with Albert the Great. He held two professorships at Paris, lived at the court of Pope Urban IV, directed the Dominican schools at Rome and Viterbo, combated adversaries of the mendicants, as well as the Averroists, and argued with some Franciscans about Aristotelianism. </p><p>His greatest contribution to the Catholic Church is his writings. The unity, harmony and continuity of faith and reason, of revealed and natural human knowledge, pervades his writings. One might expect Thomas, as a man of the gospel, to be an ardent defender of revealed truth. But he was broad enough, deep enough, to see the whole natural order as coming from God the Creator, and to see reason as a divine gift to be highly cherished. </p><p>The <i>Summa Theologiae</i>, his last and, unfortunately, uncompleted work, deals with the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped work on it after celebrating Mass on December 6, 1273. When asked why he stopped writing, he replied, “I cannot go on.... All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” He died March 7, 1274.</p> American Catholic Blog We talk often about how we are God’s “hands and feet,” which is true. That being said, we can’t fall into the trap of thinking God needs us like we need Him. He’s God—which makes the reality that He wants to use us and be in a relationship with us an even sweeter, more profound truth.

 
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