A  plethora of films deal with the afterlife, the shady domain Hamlet calls "that undiscovered country." From them could be built a looming tower of unanswered questions and unreliable answers. From contemplating its existence and worrying about its consequences, to trying to make contact with its citizens or making a short visit to its eternal shores, the afterlife is one of life's great mysteries—and thus prime material for artists. And why shouldn't it be? What happens to us after we cross over to the "other side" can and should have a profound effect on how we live our lives while still hanging out on this side.

In Hereafter, director Clint Eastwood, working from a script by Peter Morgan (The Queen), takes his turn at dealing with life after death. This makes sense—between Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns and the Dirty Harry films, East­wood has probably dispatched more on-screen souls to Hades than your average movie star. But more recently Eastwood has been more concerned with contemplating hell on earth. Here, he toes the line between the two worlds, suggesting that they may have more in common than we think.

Eastwood accomplishes this by em­ploying three different stories, which appear to have little in common beyond brushes with death. One concerns a gentle young boy in London grieving the death of his twin brother (played by twins Frankie and George McLaren). Another is about a high-powered French journalist (Cécile De France) who has a near-death experience that changes her life priorities. The third concerns a sensitive working stiff in San Francisco (Matt Damon) who is trying to piece together a normal life despite possessing a rare ability to communicate, via the touch of a shaky if hopeful hand, with those who have recently passed on.