Tuesday, November 2, 2010

After Hereafter

It was a cold, gray, drizzly day. So we decided to take in a movie. We (meaning I) chose to see Clint Eastwood’s new film, “Hereafter.” It was not the most exciting film I have ever seen. Reviewers describe it as “meditative” and “contemplative.” I just found it slow.

I usually enjoy films that deal with spiritual or religious issues in a serious manner; there are so few of them. But this film made an important topic boring. The subject of the film – for those of you who have not seen the film or the previews – is the afterlife.

One of the main characters, a journalist named Marie LeLay (played by Cécile De France) gives voice to the central theme the film. She asks her boyfriend, “What do you think happens when we die?" Her atheist boyfriend says that nothing happens, just a black void.

Religious answers are given cameo roles. A boy looking for answers about the fate of his dead twin views a YouTube video of a Muslim talking about the afterlife. He is the stereotypical jidadist, frightening and fanatical. So much for Islam.

He then watches a Christian preacher on YouTube who assures the listener that "if you believe in Christ, you have nothing to fear."  The boy shakes his head in disbelief. In this manner the gospel is summarily dismissed.

Mediums are pictured as charlatans. New Agers are shown as silly, and atheists are portrayed as intellectual snobs. So who has the answer to the hereafter? Not the main character, an authentic psychic played by Matt Damon. Though he can speak with the dead, when asked about the afterlife he repeatedly says, “I don't know."

There are frequent visions of the hereafter – which is pictured as a blurry place with fuzzy light populated by shadowy figures waiting around to talk to the living. It reminds me of the Old Testament Sheol and the Greek Hades.

A dead boy’s spirit speaks about feeling weightless and boundless, and tells his brother (through the medium of Matt Damon) that the afterlife is “pretty cool.” That is about as exciting as the hereafter gets in the film.

After the closing credits began to roll, a pair of young men hurried down our row, eager to exit the theatre. As the first one passed, he looked down at me and remarked, “That was the stupidest movie I ever saw!” I wouldn’t go that far. I have seen stupider movies, like “Dumb and Dumber” for example. But, of course, that movie was not trying to appear profound.

This film shows just how shallow the American concept of the afterlife is. Often when I have talked to people about their understanding of heaven, they make it all about them. They are reunited with loved ones, retired to mansions in the sky, and eternally enjoying themselves with their favorite pastimes.

I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the hereafter any more than anyone else does. But I know what the Bible says. Furthermore I know better than to take it too literally. One thing I am pretty sure of – the hereafter will not be boring or fuzzy.

Furthermore it will not be about me. My self - if I will even have one - will be swallowed up by the glory and presence of God. As the apostle says, “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”

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