Eastwood Takes Another Bold Subject to TIFF: the Afterlife

They love Clint in Toronto, but they’re divided on “The Hereafter”; this critic has a personal connection

Academy Award winning director-producer Clint Eastwood has Toronto all aflutter.

In the huge line-up that snaked down Yonge Street and around the corner, further and further it seemed from the Elgin Theater, the talk was all Eastwood, a virtual love-in.

People root for Clint perhaps because they recognize that he has evolved from a so-so actor through the ‘60s to one of the finest directors in the business. And as an actor, he has grown deeper, more honest, as he has aged. They seem to get that he paid his dues as an actor, that he made some lousy films (“The Gauntlet”) to be able to make the films he really wanted to make. And no other actor-director-producer has had the relationship with a studio Eastwood has had with Warner Bros., and for so long. 

At 80, he looks terrific and is a sea of calm. Earlier in the day he had sat at the grand piano at the Windsor Arms Hotel, tinkling the ivories as he waited for a group of journalists to arrive — oblivious to the film fans trying to catch a glimpse.

Walking the red carpet last night at the premiere of his new film, “Hereafter,” he stopped to chat, smiled often and looked utterly at ease, comfortable in the atmoshpere and absolutely confident. And inside the theater there was a lot of goodwill towards Eastwood and his cast, which includes Matt Damon, a festival regular, and Bryce Dallas Howard.

All that changed two hours later, after the film had screened. Two hours later, it was an audience divided. While some, like myself, liked the film and applauded Eastwood’s daring for once again stepping outside his comfort zone, many wondered: Just what was Eastwood thinking in making a metaphysical study that feels so much like a European film?

“Hereafter” is a handsomely film about the question of an afterlife. It has a deeper meaning for me perhaps as nine years ago I was in a near fatal car accident, and spent three weeks in a coma in the intensive care unit of Toronto's famous Sunnybrook Hospital. While unconcious for that time I saw things as real to me as the people on the street I see every day, as true to me as my wife and kids, and I cannot to this day discuss the matter without weeping, or explain entirely what happened to me.

The doctors they told me it was a combination of the intense pain and the morphine. Maybe, but how did these, visions I suppose attach themselves so powerfully to my soul, to my mind? To this day the memory of the visions haunts me, and thus I believe we go somewhere after this life, though I don’t know where.

Eastwood's daring, meditative film explores that, yes, perhaps there is something that comes after, and there are people who have been given connections to the dead.

One of the storylines involves a man who loses his twin brother and becomes obsessed with connecting with him — he knows the spirit is still with him … he cannot let go. And one breathtaking sequence , in which a woman is nearly killed when a tsunami sweeps through her village, is one of Eastwood's greatest set pieces, conjuring up images of the 2004 disaster that took so many lives and again asks tough questions about life and death.

Damon, who last worked with Eastwood in “Invicturs,” is terrific as one of these people, a man who was once quite famous but now sees his gift as a curse and just wants to be left alone. He gives the best performance in the film, though I am not sure if I would call his performance a lead.

Despite an ending that doesn’t quite work, I liked the film, very much. It’s also worth mentioning that the score may be Eastwood’s finest yet, and could land him an Oscar nod. And how very different for screenwriter Peter Morgan, moving from his political scripts “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon” to this metaphysical drama.