Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hereafter: Great Story Telling

I recorded this movie starring Matt Damon, Cecile De France, and Frankie McLaren on the DVR.  It took me months to watch it.  Mostly because a friend of mine told me that she and a bunch of her friends thought it was the most boring movie they had ever seen.  I was not feeling well recently and took the plunge.  I could see why my friend felt Hereafter was boring.  There was no action, no sex scenes, very little CGI.  Except for the violence of death and couple swear words, a child could have watched it.  But coming from the point of view of a writer, which at this point I can never escape, I thought Hereafter was fantastic story telling.

The writer, Peter Morgan (The Last King of Scotland, Frost/Nixon, The Queen), shows us the three threads of the story.  Matt Damon's character, George Lonegan, was once a renowned psychic who can connect with the dead.  Burned out and frustrated that his "gift" separates him from everyone, he has turned away from celebrity and is working in a factory.  Marie Lelay (Cecile De France) has a near death experience when she is caught in the tsunami that hit South East Asia.  This experience also works to separate her from those around her.  Her boyfriend Didier tells her that nothing happens after death, the light turns out and that is it.  And finally Frankie McLaren stars as twins, Marcus and Jason.   Jason is killed in an auto accident, leaving the weaker Marcus to deal with his heroin addicted mother who soon gives him to child services in an effort to clean herself up.  All Marcus wants to do is connect with his brother.  Again, Morgan uses this situation to separate Marcus from those around him, his case workers, foster family, teachers, and other kids at school.

The vast majority of Hereafter deals with telling the individual characters stories and showing how their individual experiences put them slightly out of step with everything going on around them.  Almost like they are living on a slightly different plane than everyone else.  In most scenes George, Marie, and Marcus are alone.  If they are with another person, the scene involves lack of communication and connection so that these characters still seem to be alone even when surrounded by others.  As the story moves forward, the three strands start to intertwine until the climax where all three characters are in the same place at the same time.  Coming from the story telling perspective, this was a great feat.  The entire movie lead up to each character meeting at one place.  They did not suddenly appear there for some artificial reason.

I am not going to spoil the entire ending, but I do want to address the romantic aspect of this story.  I was fascinated by how it was handled mostly because I am currently writing a romance novel where the hero has a psychic ability that separates him from others. One of the big hurdles in romance is that you must convince your audience that your two characters belong together. That out of the millions of men and women in the world, these two are fated to be together, no one else can fill that void.  Morgan showed how impossible it was for George to have a relationship with someone "normal" early in the movie.  For him there was no honeymoon period.  Once he touches someone, he connects with their dead relatives and friends and knows way too much.  His dates invariably want readings and invariably hear things they didn't want to.  Marie is separated by her near death experience.  No one can understand what she went through.  She writes an entire book about it but really no one can know what she personally experienced.   The story line set these two up to be the perfect match.  George can see and feel what Marie experienced.  When George touches Marie, he sees her death, not a bunch of relatives telling him all about her.  The perfect match.

I am glad I watched Hereafter it has given me food for thought on my novel in progress and was a great example of story telling.  If you are looking for action and adventure, things exploding, sex and drugs, this not the movie for you.  If you like a really good story, I highly recommend it.