Hereafter

..

"Death is not final, it’s merely the beginning:
gateway to an afterlife that reflects our conduct here on earth.
God, in his infinite generosity, has created Heaven,
which is where [the deceased] is now,
surrounded by all the angels and the saints, looking down at us.
And so, we commit [his] body to dust, his soul already in God’s care."

poster

He’s a psychic trying to leave his old profession behind, forever haunted by ghosts he’d rather not see and an older brother who keeps dragging him back to the ways he’s trying to put to bed. She’s a writer who’s already seen death, miraculously surviving the angry waters that swallowed her whole. In short: a man trying, but unable, to leave his life of psychic reading behind; and a woman transformed, unable to think of anything other than the flicker of light she’d seen when her life came to an end.

As we learn, the figure on the horizon – a child and his shadow – is not a figment of the imagination; he’s not something that can so easily be dismissed. And it’s his story that provides the hidden third that comes to unite the pair, even as he labors to reconnect with his dead brother and reclaim his missing home. For he was born a twin, the younger by a matter of minutes. When left without his twin and protector, the child begins what seems to be an endless search, looking for a mediator to commune with the dead, looking for someone to bring back the spirit of the one without whom life had become an impossibility.

For some viewers, the three stories were too much to handle, a sign of unrestrained ambition or a deep-seated confusion. But if we pay attention, we’ll notice the protagonist’s affection for Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, a story also bedeviled by changing fortunes and improbable coincidence. Which would suggest there’s more going on than meets the eye, that the "unlikely" may in fact provide a clue for what exceeds our understanding. In this sense, the three stories may resemble the panels that formed the tryptychs of a different time, where multiple portraits were used to depict a single scene, one that typically related to the fact of crucifixion and the life that had yet to come.

In other words, the hereafter.

Glimpse_of_the_Light

In all three stories, someone’s been touched by death, a black hole that resists all attempts to give meaning to what has passed. Despite this similarity, each is affected in different ways. George, who was pronounced clinically dead as a child, is continually hounded by the ghosts of others, his ability a "gift" he’d rather not possess. (A life that’s all about death is no life at all.) The child, Marcus, unable to live without his older twin, searches high and low for someone who can connect him with the brother who no longer exists. And the journalist, Marie, having lost a child in addition to her own life, loses interest in the fame and fortune that came with her job, turning away from the terms of her previous existence.

What is cryptic about this mix of storylines is nothing other than the crypt of death, the tomb in which lies the half-buried and unmourned. And as we come to discover, the key to deciphering the puzzle with which the protagonists are faced is nothing short of the shape of the lives of their own.

It’s also by virtue of a certain relocation, the move from one’s home turf to the land of another, that brings resolution to their stories. For it’s by visiting the site of death – helping the younger face the task of mourning and giving the elder the chance to say goodbye – that any sort of resolution is found. For if we’re willing to make the leap, the twins, both the living and the dead, are the unseen faces of the adults from opposite sides of the earth: one who, in the wake of a childhood accident, could see nothing other than the faces of the dead, and another who, in the midst of a tsunami, caught a glimpse of the light.

Unseeing_Unseen

An early (and failed) romantic encounter shows us the dilemma of pairing in the shadow of death. For even though both were up to the challenge, both are haunted by ghosts that refuse to be left behind. For Melanie ("dark, blackness"), it’s a past that continues to hound her while, for George, it’s his inability to end to his lifelong relationship with the dead.

They meet in a cooking class, each finding themselves in an institute for learning. She is forward, breaking all rules of convention, explaining how she came to be in that very place: she was dumped in Pittsburgh, of all places, virtually at the altar, now relocated on the other side of the continent trying to start anew, even hoping she might meet the man of her dreams. When it’s his turn to reciprocate, George is much less forthcoming, in part because his past is more difficult to relate, knowing from experience that his story is near impossible to understand. And so he’ll simply say he’s been trying to change professions, leaving his cooking partner in the dark.

Despite this selective silence, they hit it off, and soon find themselves in George’s home where, by accident or by fate, she learns what he had tried to hide: his power of communication that comes through the intimacy of skin. In retrospect, this would explain his distance and his avoidance of physical contact. Because she’s intrigued, she pleads for a reading which George reluctantly provides. But when the truth of what he sees is spoken – of what her father did to her – it’s hard to tell who’s more horrified by the revelation, him or her.

Needless to say, they never see each other again … which is the precise moment when the words of Little Dorrit once again fill the air:

The old, unhappy feeling that had once pervaded my life
came back like an unwelcome visitor, and deeper than ever.
It addressed me like a strain of sorrowful music,
a hopeless consciousness of all that I had lost, all that I had ever loved.
And all that remained was a ruined blank and waste lying all around me,
unbroken to the dark horizon.

For in the absence of human contact, the kind of isolation to which George seems to be doomed, it’s the words of Dickens that provides the consolation he needs. If nothing else, it provides a much needed reflection for his invisible emotional life.

Psychomanteum

With a shift of scene, we see another younger brother, now relocated to a foster home (for his addict of a mother has been sent to rehab, to dry out), is left all alone to give sense to the loss of his twin, no longer able to rely on the one who had helped give meaning and order to his existence. Without his mother, the absence is palpable, and the foster parents are kind enough to set-up an empty bed with which he can continue his half of their nightly ritual: saying goodnight to the other across the divided room. The hat he wears upon his head is also an homage to his brother, the sole reminder and keepsake of the one who’s passed from the realm of the living to the dead.

Bereft, he seeks answers, and commences a search for those who might help connect him with the brother who no longer exists. As we follow the contours of his journey, we’re witness to a host of incompetents and pretenders willing to take advantage of the desperate and forlorn. Others seem to be earnest, but even their methods fail to produce the result for which he’s looking.

And yet, in the midst of these liaisons, an old woman stands out. She relies on no fancy gadgetry, neither does she collapse into a scary trance. Instead, she uses a more ancient method, one borrowed from another time.

It was the ancient Greeks who discovered it – Psychomaneum, they called it –
the reflective surface being the conduit to the afterlife.
Nowadays, we call it "mirror gazing."
You might not be able to speak to him, but you will see him.
If you really want to, that is.

As they stand before the mirror, she asks whether he’s able to see his twin. But because the timing wasn’t quite right or perhaps because she was crowding out his space, his answer is "No," unable to see the image of the other that stands before his very eyes. And so, his search continues, seemingly endless, until that moment when he meets another version of himself, one more able to convey the unwanted news about the fate of the dead.

Turning_Point

Meanwhile, Marie, the writer, finds herself in front of her computer, having decided it was too early to return to work. Her pet project – writing a hard-hitting critique about the unseen side of "uncle" Mitterand – is how she intended to spend her time. But perhaps because the screen also works like a mirror, she soon discovers that there are other things she’d like to write about instead, things she’s been unable to push aside, like the light she saw during the moment of her death.

As indecision gives way to a newfound purpose, her old life will slowly fall away: her publisher outraged by her change in topic and the job that she excelled at no longer one she can call her own. And when she finds out that her boss and lover has now taken up with another, the painful dismantling of the old is complete, leaving her no choice but to pursue the elusive but compelling truth she witnessed on the day she died.

Which is how she comes to discover the vast – yet hidden – resources that speak of experiences just like her own: scientists studying death and the afterlife yet forced to remain in hiding. For the truth of which they speak is usually greeted with much hostility, as if the hereafter were a threat to established ways of living. So, when Marie gets her hands on their material, she’ll no longer find herself indecisive or restrained but writing a manuscript that comes to be called, "Hereafter: A Conspiracy of Silence," partly a reflection of her anger, of the turmoil and doubt she had to endure but also an effort to share an experience that, in some ways, has turned her into an evangelist on behalf of the submerged and forgotten.

Which is also how she turns up in London – the third space – at the bookfair which will set into motion a series of events after which she and George will finally meet, ironically, through the efforts of the young boy who’s been looking for his brother.

Reading_for_the_Brother

It may have been a long and winding road – for George finally managed to wrest himself from his brother’s tireless efforts to convince him to return to the business of reading others, which freed him up to take a trip to London where, among other things, he could visit the home of his favorite author when, as if by chance, he came across a notice for a public reading of none other than Little Dorrit where he’d also catch sight of a woman reading from her book about the hereafter, but before he had the chance to decide whether he wanted to speak with her or not, a child had called out his name, threatening to unveil the anonymity he’d worked so hard to keep – but however long and improbable the journey, finally one younger brother finds the other and manages to extract a reading from him.

George, having cut ties with his own brother, now finds himself in another country, able to put his unwanted ability to a use he could have not foreseen. And so, sitting face-to-face, across from the other, the two share the unexpected, the twin having finally found one who knows his craft, the other hearing himself saying things he’d never said to a client before. For when he finds himself faced with a child crippled by an unyielding absence, George will speak as if he were improvising for the sake of a child that was his very own.

He says if you’re worried about being on your own, don’t be.
You’re not. Because he is you and you are him.
One cell. One person. Always.

These words intended for another’s benefit seem to come from nowhere, out of the blue. And yet, it’s difficult not to notice their resemblance to the ones spoken at the funeral, translated into a language different from the distant majesty accorded to God and Heaven. For the separation works like an optical illusion, especially in the case of twins, where the qualities of one are accorded to the other. Which may be why the brother’s hat must be given up, as well.

Tele-communication

It’s only after they’ve established this relationship that another kind of conversation becomes possible, like the phone call George gets from the child who gives him the name of the hotel where the woman is staying. Which gives rise to a completely different dynamic. For the boy, from the time they met, repeatedly and insistently speaks of the woman while George reacts with puzzlement, wondering where the child would get the impression that he’d be interested in her (rudely interrupting the reading he’s chosen for the night).

Despite this, the following day, George finds himself at her hotel, looking for her, even while wondering whether he’s become crazy. And when she doesn’t pick up the phone, he’ll find himself writing a note to her instead, a note that turns into a manuscript. For once pen is set to paper, the words keep coming, words he never realized were waiting to be expressed, pouring out of him as if a dam had just been released.

We’re not told what those words might be, nor do we see him in the act of writing. We’re never told what they might have been. Perhaps they were about the eerie resemblance between her description of her own death and afterlife – the light and the weightlessness – and the images he saw when doing his reading for the boy. Perhaps it was their accidental touch, when his hand grazed hers at the book signing, since he’d never "read" another already familiar with the fact of her death.

Meeting_the_Other

And so, at the appointed time, he’ll wait for her, sitting at the place he said they could meet. When she first appears, he’ll hesitate for a moment, allowing himself the luxury of imagining a future with her, one that might involve a kiss. A moment much like the one we had seen immediately prior to this, when the twin is finally reunited with his recovering mother, a deep breath at the door behind which she waits. For both, it’s a moment of triumph, a sign of independence, no longer haunted by the dead. Perhaps even realizing how a brother gains importance in the face of maternal failure, how an ancient absence gives rise to others.

It’s only after this moment that George stands to show himself, perhaps knowing more about their future than she’s in the position to know. For he’s George ("earth worker") and in the place of an earlier darkness he sees Marie ("star of the sea"). No longer is he preyed upon by the ghosts of the living, no longer is she hounded by the life that was lost.

As they approach, he’ll remove his gloves, for he no longer has cause to worry about what he might see, neither for his own protection or for hers. Neither will she have reason to ask for a reading nor will he feel the need to protest. And so, standing there, facing the other, they shake hands, as if meeting for the first time. And rather than having the camera zoom in on their kiss, the two sit down for coffee instead, free to join in on the doings of the world, no longer haunted by the dead.

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~ by mistified on April 16, 2011.

One Response to “Hereafter”

  1. Wow, just started watching this film, stunned by the David Copperfield quote, searched it, found this Blog, got it right on the money. Excellent insight.

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