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“Man is a creature who is both in the process of history and who yet transcends history at every point. This involvement and transcendence is the cause of that friction in the soul of man, which if unchecked, results in pessimism and suicide. What plagues man is death.”—E.J. Carnell
Hollywood has come out with its latest attempt to answer the greatest question facing each and every human: What happens when we die? Hereafter, a movie directed by Clint Eastwood, with the help of award winning Executive Producer Stephen Spielberg, is that attempt, as it incorporates the stories of at least four separate parties who have been directly or indirectly affected by death.
Matt Damon, who plays the part of a spiritistic medium (“psychic”) capable of communing with the dead, is George Lonegan. From his youth, and after a bout with physical abnormality that nearly caused his death, he has been able to communicate with deceased friends and relatives of those willing to confide in him. A brother, Billy, played by Jay Mohr wants to capitalize on George’s psychic ability, but George wants no part of it. In fact, he persistently tries to flee his “gift” by calling it a “curse.”
Cécile de France is Marie LeLay, a French journalist who eventually writes a book after which the movie is entitled. It is based on her Near Death Experience when a tsunamis washes ashore the beach resort where she and her paramour Didier (Thierry Neuvic) are staying. After dying in the catastrophe, she experiences what is commonly reported in many NDE’s; floating amid a hazy cloud of other deceased persons, bright light amid darkness, and calm and quiet. Two survivors of the tsunamis manage to retrieve her dead body from the rubble and perform CPR on her. She revives and then brokers a deal to write a book originally about Franҫois Mitterand, but ends up writing about her NDE instead. Coincidentally her book is entitled Hereafter: A Conspiracy of Silence. Go figure.
A second story which develops throughout the movie deals with two 12 year-old twin boys by the names of Jacob and Marcus (George and Frankie McLaren). They are from London and love their drunken and druggy mother to the point where they have the savvy to try and sabotage her attempts at self-destruction. Unfortunately one day Jacob heads off to the local chemist (i.e. pharmacist) to garner some drugs to counteract the heroin that their mother had been taking, and when returning home is accosted by some street hoodlums. Upon fleeing from their assault he is accidently struck by a van and killed on a London street. The rest of the movie Marcus spends his time trying to get into contact with Jacob, and finally does so after meeting with George Lonegan.
Bryce Dallas Howard is Melanie, who, it turns out, was molested by her now deceased father when she was a little girl. George meets Melanie as a night time culinary school where the two hit it off when they are partnered in class for a cooking competition. As their platonic relationship blossoms, she overhears a telephone call from George’s brother Billy while they were planning a meal together at George’s apartment. She eventually prods George into telling her that he is a psychic, which subsequently leads to him doing a reading for here, where he finds out about the abuse. With that discovery the relationship ends with her leaving the apartment and breaking down to cry, and so do any further scenes in the movie from Melanie.
As the plot moves forward eventually all the main characters—George, Marie, and Marcus—meet together at a book fair in London. George receives a psychic jolt from Marie when he hands her a copy of her book to be signed, and Marcus spots George after looking up on the Internet someone who can help him with his yearning for his deceased twin brother. George eventually does a reading for Marcus when Marcus persistently waits outside George’s hotel. George informs Marcus that Jacob has been watching out for him—he knocks Marcus’ cap off which prevent him from getting on a subway that explodes in a London tunnel—but it is now time for Marcus to move on. Marcus wants him to come back, but George informs him that Jacob is moving on. When asked where Jacob was going, George simply replies “I don’t know.” Marcus reunites with his rehabbed mother, and that’s the last we hear of him.
Marie, though, is a different story. After Marcus calls George to inform him where Marie is staying in London during her book tour, George shows up and leaves a message for her to contact him. They meet shortly thereafter in a downtown London food court, where George fantasizes briefly about kissing Marie. After standing up and she recognizes him, they sit down for a talk as the scene fades to black. No one knows if George’s fantasy comes true, but the wise betting man would surely place his wager on the eventually becoming a couple.
The movie itself is very low-keyed in its presentation of occult themes. It is not a horror film where gratuitous paranormal activity jumps out at the audience every other scene. In fact, there are no ghosts, per se, demons, gremlins, or strange creatures from hell running around tormenting the living. Instead, it is an occult movie which introduces speculations and possibilities about what happens to those who have passed on in death, which is wrapped up in the ideas that necromancy and conjuring the dead are distinctly possibly given the person one is asking to intercede for them. The movie itself does mock some pretending to be able to contact the dead, as is especially seen when Marcus goes looking for psychics and mediums after doing some research on the Internet.
A few of the more popular themes alluded to when it comes to Near Death Experiences are that when a person dies one passes through another dimension of hazy reality where other human beings have already traversed. Curiously only select persons become identifiable when consulting with the medium upon returning to life. Also, it is accepted that certain people have the “gift” of necromancy, or communing with the dead, even though the medium in this film, George, considers it a curse. Weightlessness, bright lights, extreme quiet and peace are also familiar themes which are commonly heard from those who have had NDE’s. And while there was a Eastern religious reference to the oneness and ubiquity of all persons who die, there were no overt references to God, sin, heaven, hell, or anything like those. Both Islam and Christianity are mockingly alluded to, but beyond that, it was basically an agnostic endorsement that contacting the dead was acceptable.
We live in a time in history when psychic communication with the dead and spirit entities is embraced and encouraged. Television and the movies is replete with examples where a medium or psychic is either channeling messages from beyond the grave or the channeler is viewed as a benevolent guide to assist the deceased move on in its journey into eternity. Rarely, if ever, is the psychic seen as a pawn used by demonic realm to entice unsuspecting or misguided individuals into accepting their message as something to be pursued. Coupled with biblical ignorance and a naive fascination with the supernatural and one has the perfect formula to lead people directly into spiritual bondage and death.
The Old Testament makes it perfectly clear that contact with the dead and consultation with those involved in the promotion of necromancy and spiritistic communication were off-limits to God’s people. “Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:31) is a classic example given to Israel on what is should do to refrain from spiritistic consultation and contact, with numerous other warnings and references through the Old Testament alluding to the same (Lev. 19:31; 20:6, 27; Deut. 18:11; 1 Sam. 28:3, 7ff; 2 Kgs 21:6; 23:24; 1 Chr. 10:13; 2 Chr. 33:6; Isa. 8:19; 19:3; 29:4). Moreover, those involved in witchcraft, those who interpret omens and sorcery were expressly forbidden as well (Deut. 18:10, 14; 2 Kgs 9:22; 21:6; 2 Chr. 33:6), with sorcerers and sorceresses were given the death penalty for practicing their craft (Ex. 22:18). The main reason is that such activities ultimately led people away in idolatry, sexual perversion, and in the case of King Saul, who consulted with the witch at Endor, his own suicide.
When one turns to the New Testament the admonitions are no less significant. Aside from Jesus’ continual casting out of demons throughout his ministry, some of which were likely due to the worship and recognition of Roman and Greek deities and demigods,1 the Apostle Paul exorcised a slave girl with a “spirit of divination” in the city of Thyatira (Acts 16:16-18), and then went on to write that things involving the occult, such as sorcery, were works of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). Later on, using the same Greek word—pharmakeia (farmakei,a|), from which we get the English transliteration “pharmacy”—as Paul in Galatians 5:20, John the Beloved records in the Book of Revelation the method used by Babylon the Great in the last days of its earthly existence to deceive the nations. The exception in Revelation is that it is translated “sorcery,” or delving into the occult, most like with the aid of drug use. The bottom line is that God’s people are to stay away from occult activity at the risk of either being led astray into idolatrous error or demonic oppression by opening oneself up to that kind of spirit activity.
Hereafter in some ways does what many in the church are failing to do, and that is provide a starting point to discuss what happens shortly after one leaves this life in death. It provides glimpses into the afterlife through the experiences of those who have passed over temporarily and then come back to report on what they saw and heard. And while most all of the theological views discussed is inherently self-contradictory, one thing is sure: everyone is going to die one day, and the living left behind are going to be asking similar questions, most of the time in utter disbelief and heartbreak.
The Bible is absolutely certain that there is life after death in one of two places. Those who are redeemed of the Lord will be ushered into the presence of God by guardian angels, meaning that there will be no traversing of darkened or lighted tunnels by oneself (Lk. 16:22), nor a vague haziness of blurred silhouettes of persons along the way where one is left frightened as to what is going on. When the Apostle Paul shared his NDE with the Corinthian church he described his experience as being “caught up into Paradise, and hear[ing] inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (2 Cor. 12:4). This is in stark contrast to some accounts which are more regurgitations of cult doctrine inconsistent with biblical teaching than an experiential account of a specific event.2
Conversely those who die in a state of spiritual degeneration and wickedness continue their existence in hell; a place originally created for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). Those consigned to hell spend an eternity in flame and torment, and absolute darkness and isolation, with only the possibility of hearing the distant screams of others who share in their demise. According to Jesus hell is a place where “their worm does not die, and fire is not quenched” (Mk. 9:48). At the final Great White Throne judgment the plight of the wicked only worsens, as everyone in hell is reunited in a resurrection with their physical bodies and stand before God in a final judgment based upon whatever works one had done while alive on earth. Depending on one’s works will either mitigate or intensify one’s stay in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15). When the dead are cast into the Lake of Fire, along with the devil, the false prophet, the beast, the finality of eternal torment is sealed. Forever and ever and ever the wicked will reap the fruits of his or her wickedness, without relief, without reprieve.
Perhaps Hereafter will spark much needed discussion about the life after death, as well as warn others about participation in the occult. Most likely, though, a few more of the biblically illiterate and naïve will be hoodwinked into accepting its self-destructive message, and many Christian pastors and leaders will continue preaching and teaching sweet nothings about a subject which will become intimately personal to everyone sooner or later. God have mercy on these leaders’ neglect as they waste another golden opportunity to deliver an apologetic response for why the Christian message is superior to Hollywood’s hopeless and agnostic message which ends with “I don’t know.”
1 D. E. Aune, “Exorcism,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 2:243.
2 Mormon author Betty Eadie is a classic example of someone who allegedly underwent a NDE and then wrote about “intelligences,” a figure by the name of Jesus who was chosen before creation to be the savior, and a “veil of forgetfulness,” the necessity of the fall for man to progress, and heavenly beings who have come to earth for experiential reasons, to list just a few of the mainstays of Mormon doctrine.