Happily Ever Hereafter

I’ve always been a sucker for a happy ending, even if that ending happened in the afterlife rather than on earth. Wuthering Heights was one of the first “classics” I read—when I was 12—and I was perfectly okay with Catherine and Heathcliff finding happiness as ghosts on the moors. (I can’t really imagine any corporeal beings being happy there, what with the treacherous bogs and all. You’d pretty much have to be a disembodied spirit.)

Perhaps it’s the Easter season that got me thinking about the afterlife, but not the organized religion kind, which I never found very appealing. My converted Catholic brother is shocked that I make no particular effort to celebrate Easter, and the lapsed Episcopalian who was forced to attend church as a child and paid to do so as an adult (paid soloist) is not positive he’s wrong. However, there is something about being forced to do something that makes you resist it all the more. (Take note, parents who insist on piano lessons! … Although those of us who ended up having to accompany students, not to mention ourselves, are mighty glad you did.)

But back to the subject at hand ….

I’ve been wracking my brains for other novels other than WH whose endings would only be considered happy if you’re willing to take that leap of faith into the afterlife, but not too many jump to mind–even though I know I’ve read a ton of them, particularly romance, reincarnation or time-travel novels. Among recent bestsellers, I liked The Lovely Bones well enough, although the book didn’t really work as a movie. Mostly I’ve been thinking about afterlife movies, or movies whose success depend on the viewer buying the concept of an afterlife, such as The Hereafter—the Clint Eastwood production. (I have the book on my to-read list.)

This movie particularly appeals to people like me—a hopeful spiritualist in a Pascal’s Wagerish sense. I did resist seeing it initially. Jeff and I were spending Christmas with his family, and the hotel movie theater was showing it at its late-show. The description, something like “three people deal with death” didn’t exactly promise a jolly good time.

Death! The perfect subject for Christmas.

Well, yes, as it happens.

Another reason I’ve resisted is that I’ve seen a few too many grim Clint productions in recent years (mainly, Mystic River) and was inclined to think this would be another. I do admire the guy as a person (what I know of him) and director and enjoy him as an actor—even in those orangutan movies.

The Hereafter begins with a spectacular tsunami scene, which I’ve watched several times all by itself for the coolness of the special effects, wherein the lead actress, Cecile de France—beautiful but in a real-person way—“dies” and revives, certain that she has witnessed the afterlife. Matt Damon is a reluctant medium who drowns out the voices by listening to nothing but Dickens on booktape (who can blame him? especially when the readers are British and can do all the voices!). His character is particularly sympathetic, even if I don’t buy for a minute that the woman he meets in cooking class would run away under any circumstances. On repeated viewings, I tend to fast-forward through the scenes involving the kid, although his performance is great and these scenes are intrinsic to the plot. It all comes together perfectly at the end, and although I always have a good cry, I am uplifted. There are very few movies I bother to watch more than once these days. As a kid I watched many movies multiple times. A few I continue to revisit periodically, although I may have finally reached my saturation point with Gone with the Wind and Dr. Zhivago (sad endings, both, but oh well!).

Here are a few recommendations if you’re looking for atypical Easter fare:

  • Heaven Can Wait and the film it is based on, Here Comes Mr. Jordan
  • The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (the Rex Harrison film, not the TV show)
  • Maytime (Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy), although Naughty Marietta and Rose Marie are by far the best of their movies. A note to opera fans–these films also have fun excerpts from operas, and you wish you could see Jeanette in all these roles, even if her voice wasn’t big or rich enough for the stage.
  • Resurrection. Ellen Burstyn at her most empathetic. The main character becomes psychic after a near-death experience. Ending is kind of happy, depending on how you measure these things.
  • The Dead Zone. Dated, but Christopher Walken is at his creepy/sexy best. Not exactly a happy ending if you want to see true love triumph. Happy, if you’re going by what’s-best-for-mankind standards.

As far as traditional Easter movies goes, I confess I have whiled away an hour or two (or three, with commercials) from year to year sobbing during Ben Hur. (I think it’s the film score that really gets me going.) Charlton Heston isn’t on my list of “actors I most admire,” but he was perfectly cast in that movie, which is a riveting epic drama from start to finish, no matter what your religion.

Then there’s The Robe. Gets me every time!

I could usually get a laugh out of my father with my Richard Burton imitation: “Were …  you … out … there?!”

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