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“Hereafter” – Where Do Characters Go When They’re Narratively “Killed Off”?

"Hereafter" - Where Do Characters Go When They're Narratively "Killed Off"?

This is a discussion of part of the film “Hereafter.” It may include spoilers. Continue reading only if you’ve seen the film or you don’t mind.

Opening in wider release this weekend is Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter,” or as I like to call it, “Top Chef: Afterlife” (the shots of what the afterlife looks like reminded me of a Bravo promo, and also in the film there’s a little cooking competition). Speaking of food preparation, some of the few good scenes in the movie take place during an Italian cooking class, in which Matt Damon’s psychic is paired up with Bryce Dallas Howard’s single girl on the prowl. They have an almost sexy moment together when they’re made to do blindfolded taste tests, and later they attempt a dinner date but something — I won’t go into it in detail, but for a second it gave me bad thoughts about Ron Howard — occurs that causes her character to run out. Forever. She might have died that night for all we know. Perhaps she hung herself.

As far as the film story goes, she’s at this point narratively killed off. It’s not a literal death, but we the audience will never ever know what happens to her, so she’s figuratively dead to us. Maybe even to Damon’s character, who likely never hears from her again. The way it happens in “Hereafter” is not strange or unrealistic or anything, but it is a bit disappointing since Howard is the most (only?) likable character on screen. Also, there’s a part of story expectations that make us want her type of character to return and at least work out her demons, if not also work things out with the lonely psychic (it’s also not so expected that he would end up with another unconnected character in the film). But unfortunately no.

With little else to think about at the end of the film, I tried to recall other characters in cinema who disappointingly just up and left the story without giving us closure or at least some minimal kind of return or follow-up. All I could think of were films where a seemingly major role is literally killed off. Marion Crane in “Psycho,” for instance. There are the characters in the opening Induction of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” who put on the play — which is the primary plot of “Shrew” — but are never brought back afterward. Anyway, I think all “Shrew” film adaptations leave Christopher Sly and company out. Then there are times when it seems more like bad storytelling at play, such as when a character in “Poltergeist III” is never shown to return from ‘the other side.’ I guess this could also qualify as him being literally killed off.

Can anyone remind me of another film character who departs the film without a trace, whether its explicable or not?

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