[21 October 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Get ready. It’s already happening. Hereafter, the latest ‘masterwork’ from prolific Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood is ready to make its general release bow this weekend and, already, pundits are lining up on both sides of the value verdict. On one side is the aging ‘legitimate’ press, the careerist old timers who are suggesting that the ‘nu media’ doesn’t understand the 80-yeaar-old legend’s latest endeavor. Centering, as it does, on the big picture questions of death, dying, and what happens after we leave this planet, the supposedly wise critical collective is already suggesting its somber genius and that any negative review is based solely on age, not anything inherent in the film or its form.
On the opposite side are the worthless whippersnappers, the young gun bloggers who defy studio embargoes and print gossip/proposed plagiarism as their own illegitimate babblings. According to the aging elite, anyone under the age of 40 fails to grasp what Eastwood is doing, denying him the artistic right to ponder the philosophical questions that come as mortality begins its final trip around the corral. The argument, as flawed as it is, suggests that a lack of pragmatic time on this planet somehow prevents one from seeing the subtle beauty in the director’s designs. If one were closer to retirement - or in an even more meaningless digression, had long standing familial and personal relationships of their own - they could see Hereafter‘s magic and majesty.
Of course, the entire premise fails to take several significant elements into consideration. First, the film was not “created” by Eastwood alone. It was written by Peter Morgan, the Oscar nominated scribe of such political based fictions as The Queen and Frost/Nixon - and at 47, he fails to fall into the outright oldster dispute. While a couple of generations removed from Messageboard Nation, he’s still closer to them than the octogenarian helming his screenplay. Next, almost everyone greenlighting Eastwood’s work suffers from a lack of perspective that comes from being relatively new to the film business. Even in their 50s, they are still part and parcel of the post-Harvard MBA-ing of the industry that happened in the ‘80s.
Finally, while the power of the adult demographic has been shown time and time again (the success of The Town is constantly mentioned within this maxim), they are not the group the specifically drives box office. Without crossover appeal - something Eastwood and his bosses clearly understand - Hereafter goes from possible hit to noble failure. Now, each one of these contrarian points have some validity, albeit in minor, to the overall up and down reaction to the movie’s merits. But if you listen to the so-called experts, age is still the most profound factor. The same group that failed to embrace Scott Pilgrim. vs. The World as being specifically aimed at a juvenile “gamer” mentality is continuing to push said agenda as if it actually has something valid to say.
Here’s the facts - no critic comes to the cinema without his or her own perspective. It is a viewpoint built out of their experience, the exposure to the artform being discussed, and the overall amount of information that can be held and processed during the production of said opinions. Literally, each one of the aforementioned factors require time to accumulate and influence. Someone’s whose frame of reference begins and ends with the gross out humor of the ‘90s will probably have a hard time digesting the intricacies of the screwball comedies of Hollywood’s ‘Golden’ Age. But to simply suggest that lifespan equals authority is ridiculous. Sometimes, it’s exactly the opposite.
Decades ago, famed film critics like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel were livid over what they considered as the dehumanizing hatred being spewed by horror films. During the earliest parts of the Greed decade, the then youthful journalists (both were in their early to mid ‘30s) were kvetching like grandpas over the blood and guts glutting the marketplace. Even then, a mere generation removed from the very audience they were disparaging, it wasn’t a question of age, but of appropriateness. Of course, if somehow a copy of Hostel could be shuttled back in time to their Sneak Previews set, one imagines both men’s heads exploding.
More recently, the geek aspect of the online journalism experience has been raked over the dying career option coals - and with good reason. Once a website declares something like Tron or The Monster Squad a “classic”, like minded individuals flock to said soapboxes. Before you know it, consensus has grown out of nothing but a shared experience and limited outlook, and since this voice is so much louder - or perhaps, better stated, more prevalent - than the more considered and thoughtful meditation on the subject, it becomes rote. The ‘Net is expert at rewriting pop culture history. It’s like Communism without the misguided Marxist motive for reconfiguring the past. But, again, is that a question of age per se, or simply the ever-present influence of the 18 to 25 demo.
Actually, it could be the same thing. One could both literally and figuratively argue that a lack of birthdays belies an inability to take Hereafter‘s message of “what happens next?” seriously. While it may sound cliche to suggest it, the younger one feels (not necessarily is), the more invincible they believe they are. Unlike previous groups who had the Cold and potential for nuclear war hanging over their heads, the so-called ‘kids’ of today live in a rapid revolving door cycle of 24 news blips. Terrorism may be a continuing threat, but without a Fox News ticker take on the concept replaying incessantly on the flat screen, it’s all “been there, done that.” Eastwood still taps into the populist opinion more times than not (don’t you dare argue Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby with novice film nerds) but that’s not the case with Hereafter. Maybe - just maybe - it a flawless film after all.
Such a conclusion still won’t keep those hanging on by their dwindling paychecks from creating a wholly unnecessary generation gap. If you didn’t like Hereafter and are under the age of 50, it’s not your fault. It’s your (hopefully well thought out and carefully considered) estimation. Similarly, if you’re over 60 and thought it was genius, your birth date doesn’t validate said judgment. Conversely, a 20 something loving the film or a 70 year old hating it are not anomalies, just film criticism facts. If Hereafter fails, it won’t be because it wasn’t embraced by the college and under crowd. It might just have something to do with the quality of the entertainment, not who it’s supposedly aimed at.