A good friend of mine recently told me that he had seen the new Clint Eastwood movie "Hereafter," which focuses on questions of the afterlife. I asked my friend, a spiritual director, what he thought of the film's portrayal of heaven, and he just shrugged his shoulders. "Well," he said, "there's no God, for one thing." That squishy theology is addressed in John McCarthy's fine review of Eastwood's new movie, which stars Matt Damon.
Theologically, “Hereafter” is unhelpful no matter what one’s beliefs may be. Straddling the fence between belief and non-belief, it does not say anything substantive about mortality. God, or any similar entity or force, is never mentioned. What can be gleaned is that, contrary to the opinion expressed by Marie’s boyfriend, the lights do not simply go out when we die—we are not immediately ushered into the eternal void. Some people, apparently, endure in a form that can communicate with the George Lonegan’s of this world. Further, the departed can intervene in the world in small ways.
Presenting the afterlife as a simple ghost story doesn’t give believers or doubters much intellectual sustenance. In general “Hereafter” studiously avoids anything that might be remotely inflammatory to either side. At one point a physician whom Marie interviews at an Alpine hospice argues that experiences that could foreshadow an afterlife should not be summarily discounted by a rationalist society. Evidence, or at least data, exists and ought to be treated in a scientific manner and accorded its due. Unfortunately, the theological relevance of such near-death experiences is never addressed.