From a sermon / May 2011
Clint Eastwood is a really tough guy. Just think of the hundreds of bad guys we’ve watched him kill or beat up over the last 50 years, and he hardly ever gets killed. Of course, that’s just television and movies, but Clint Eastwood looks tough in real life, too. He has that piercing gaze, and that calm, firm voice which is very intimidating. Even at age 81 he looks lean and muscular and fit– and tough. I don’t think that toughness is just an act, I think he really is a rough and tough guy.
I heard a while back that at this point in his life Eastwood wants to be working only on movies that he believes in. And so I was very interested last summer to hear that he was directing a movie on death and what happens to us then. I wanted to see what Clint Eastwood believed about that, he being an old man now and no doubt wondering what might be in store for him after his own death. The movie is called Hereafter.
Part of the movie is about a young woman named Marie who has a near death experience. She almost drowns, and is even given up for dead; and then, she unexpectedly comes to and survives. But she had spent a few minutes on the verge of death. She was well on her way to whatever comes next, and in that time she had a glimpse of the hereafter. She was blinded by a bright light so it was hard to see clearly, but she did see people who had died, and she was overwhelmed with wonderful feelings of peace and contentment and well-being. This is fictional movie, but this part of the story is written to reflect what has been reported by many people who have had near death experiences, and I am not one to automatically disregard those testimonies.
This near death experience changes Marie. She had been a top newscaster; skilled, successful, famous, wealthy, good-looking, with lots of friends and admirers. But all of a sudden she did not care about all of that as much. She was no longer driven to go after all the political controversies of the day or get all the dirt on the latest celebrity scandal. She had been on the verge of death and had a brief glimpse of what comes next, and now she wants, more than anything else, to find out all she can about the hereafter.
Marie wants to talk to other people about this, but they all think she is crazy. No one in her circle of friends has any kind of faith in God or belief in life after death, and they are sure Marie’s experience was just in her imagination. Marie asks her boyfriend, “What do you think happens when we die?” He replies, “When you die, you die. Lights out. That’s it.”
She then asks, “Don’t you think it is possible that there is something more?” He replies firmly, “No, I do not. If that were the case, someone would have discovered it by now and there would be proof.” So Marie wonders if there might be some proof somewhere. She begins to look for others who might have experienced what she had experienced. If this movie was made 40 years ago, she maybe would have thought to look in the Bible. But that isn’t where she looks. She uses Google in her search for truth. She does find others who also had glimpses of the hereafter, and she becomes convinced that life goes on.
But still her friends are not interested, and Marie is frustrated by that. She cannot understand their indifference. At one point Marie is talking about the hereafter and says to a co-worker: “It happened to me, Michael. I saw it with my own eyes… where we are going… what we will experience… each and every one of us… and that doesn’t interest you!?” But he just shrugs it off.
The movie is great about asking the question of the hereafter, but then it offers little by way of an answer. What it offers is a hodge-podge of near death experience stories, references to scientific research that is never described, a psychic who can communicate with the dead, and several slams at any religious answers to the question. Jesus is mentioned only once, and that is in the words of a rather unappealing preacher on a you-tube video clip. All references to the Christian faith are negative. The tone of the movie is somewhat spiritual, but not tied to any particular faith. God, who one would think might have something to say on the subject, is hardly mentioned. And while the near death experiences described are pleasant, even Marie, at the end, is still not sure if what she experienced was real. The movie tells an entertaining story, but that’s about it. Although it effectively raises life’s biggest question, it offers nothing by way of any comforting or credible answers.
I still wondered about Clint Eastwood’s own beliefs. I found a few interviews he did about the movie, and those who talked to Eastwood were also interested in his views on the subject. One journalist got right to the point by asking, “How much did doing this movie make you think about your own death?” Clint Eastwood replied, “I didn’t think too much about it. I was just making a movie. I thought about the screenplay, but I didn’t apply it too much to myself.” Another asked, “Were you inspired to do this because you are now 80 years old?” to which Eastwood nonchalantly replied, “No, I just liked the story.” Still another asked, “Do you believe in the hereafter?” to which he replied, “I have no idea… There is only one way to find out, and it’s not a good way, so you just have to speculate along.”
I cannot imagine such indifference in the face of death. How can a man be 80 years old and not even interested in giving a thought to what comes next? He is, in fact, so uninterested that not even making a movie on the subject can get him thinking about it. ‘There is no way of knowing,’ Eastwood said. Has he never heard of the New Testament? Does he not know that all kinds of people really do believe the Easter story of a man who rose from the dead? Is that not even worth considering, not worth looking into, not even worth a comment? Clint Eastwood will sometime in the not too distant future face death, he doesn’t have a clue as to what comes next, and he is perfectly content to leave it at that. (… continued)
Job 14:14a — If a man dies, will he live again?…
Ecclesiastes 7:2b — …Death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.
Psalm 90:12 — Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Dear Lord, when our use of this world is over and we make room for others, may we not leave anything ravished by our greed or spoiled by our ignorance; but may we hand on our common heritage fairer and sweeter through our use of it. And then, may our bodies return in peace to mother earth who for so long nourished them. Amen. –Walter Rauschenbusch