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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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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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