The film follows three different stories that revolve around death and the afterlife. They only intersect at the very end so I’m going to take it one story at a time.
Marie Lelay (Cecile De France) Marie LeLay is a French journalist vacationing in Southeast Asia with her boyfriend/co-worker Didier (Thierry Neuvic). Marie tells Didier that she is going to go out to buy gifts for his children while he sleeps in. She wanders through the street market and finds a stand that’s selling bracelets. She befriends an island girl and gives her one of the bracelets. Then, a tsunami hits the beach and leaves a path of destruction. Marie sees the oncoming destruction and takes the girl by the hand and runs. Eventually, the flood catches up to them and Marie loses touch with the child. Marie drowns and goes into the afterlife. She sees a light and shadowy figures, including the little girl. Meanwhile, two men have taken her out of the water and doing CPR. She is dead. A boat then crashes nearby but then, all of a sudden, she comes back and coughs up water. Afterwards, she wanders amidst the destruction in a daze. She sees Didier and runs up to him and they embrace.
On the plane headed home, Marie regrets going back home to Paris so soon. It’s the first time she’s ever run away from a story. She’s a popular television journalist with posters of her everywhere. Marie goes back to work and everyone applauds when she comes back into the studio. In the middle of an interview when she should be on the attack, she is obviously not into it and has spaced out. Her producer/boyfriend gets her to pay attention but too late to ask any hard hitting questions. Didier also notices her not paying attention during a story meeting. Afterwards, he tells her that she has gone back to work too soon. He tells her to go and write the book she’s been talking about and to clear her head and take a break.
She pitches a book to a publisher about Francois Mitterrand that goes deeper than anyone ever has on the man. The publishers love it and give her an advance to work on the book. Marie is too distracted by her near death experience to concentrate on her book. She does some research online and finds some information on a renowned specialist in the afterlife. She asks Didier on what he thinks happens when people die. He says there is nothingness and when you die, then you die. If there was an afterlife, there would be proof. Marie flies to Switzerland to meet the woman who runs a hospice for dying patients. As the director of a hospice who has seen her share of dying patients, the doctor describes herself as a former skeptic who was convinced by the evidence that the afterlife exists and that people like Marie have had a genuine view of it. She persuades Marie to write a book on her experience in the hope that the scientific community will ultimately accept the reality of life beyond death. The doctor gives her a box full of research and scientific data on the afterlife.
When she returns to Paris, she presents her manuscript to her publisher but the subject has changed. It is now entitled “Hereafter: A Conspiracy of Silence”. The publisher is distracted by the London terrorist bombings on the news. This isn’t what the publishers bought and they are not interested because they publish mainly political books and demand their money back. Meanwhile, all of her posters around Paris are being replaced by her substitute anchor’s poster. She is slowly being replaced at work. She discusses this with Didier and he says that she shouldn’t come back to work until she stops preaching about this afterlife business. A few months ago she was happy in life and at work but now she has nothing because she knows he is sleeping with the new anchor. She leaves, angrily. Later that night, she receives a call from the publisher apologizing for rejecting her manuscript so outright because the subject matter is very interesting. He recommends two publishers that are interested. She sends it out and receives a positive response. They will publish her book. They want her to go to the London Book Fair to do a public reading and signing.
Marcus/Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) In London, 12 year old twins Marcus and Jason are at a photography studio getting their pictures taken. Marcus is the quiet one and Jason always wears a baseball cap and talks constantly. They go back home and mainly take care of themselves. Their mother Jackie (Lyndsey marshal), an alcoholic druggie, stumbles home late at night. The next morning, two people from child protective services arrive to pay them a visit. Marcus and Jason wake up their mother and stall the social workers. Jason tells them that their mother is out at the shop and tries to clean up the house. Marcus wakes their mother up and put bags in her hand and sneak her out in the back. Jason lets the social workers in and Jackie and Marcus arrive through the front door, successfully tricking the social workers.
Later on, Jason and Marcus present their picture to Jackie as a present. She then sends Jason out to pick up some medicine from the pharmacist because Marcus hasn’t finished his homework. The boys stay in contact on cell phones and Jason tells Marcus to look up the drug. They think that the drugs will help Jackie sober up. On his way home, Jason is attacked by a group of young thugs and runs away from them. While escaping, Jason runs into the street and is hit by a van, killing him instantly. Marcus hears all of this over the phone and runs to his brother’s side. It is too late. He has died.
At the funeral, it becomes clear that child protective services has taken Marcus away from his mother as they let him have his brother’s ashes and escort him away. At night, Jason’s ashes sit on Marcus’ desk and Marcus tells him good night. Marcus is sent to a temporary foster home. They put him in their son’s room who is now a security guard. They put another bed in the room to make Marcus more comfortable and to feel like Jason is still with him. Marcus wears Jason’s cap all the time now. Marcus becomes distant and troubled at school as he keeps to himself and doesn’t socialize. Alone with a computer at his school, he looks up psychics and people that can speak to the dead. He comes across George Lonnegan’s (Matt Damon) website. He steals money from his foster parents and runs away. He visits several people that claim to commune with the dead but they are all obviously frauds and fakes, getting details wrong and giving themselves over to theatricality. Later, Marcus tries to board the tube train but his cap blows away. As he tries to get it back, the train leaves. But then, the train explodes and everyone evacuates. (This is the 2005 London terrorist attack.) He comes back home and apologizes to his foster parents. The foster parents go to child protective services and tell them that they need to find a permanent home for Marcus. They have had him for a year now and there is still no sign of him warming up to them. They take him to the London Book Fair where their son now works as a security guard.
George Lonnegan (Matt Damon)
In San Francisco, George Lonnegan is forced by his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) to perform a reading for a wealthy client of his, Christos (Richard Kind). George tells him that he doesn’t do this anymore but Billy is insistent and George performs the reading reluctantly. George knows intimate details about Christos and communes with his dead wife. She had multiple sclerosis and she apologizes that he had to take care of her for so many years and that he needs to move on with someone new. The name June comes up but Christos tells George he’s not sure what that means. After the reading, Christos tells Billy that his brother truly has a gift. Billy tells him about how George used to have a lucrative psychic business but quit due to the stresses of it. George now works at a factory for significantly less pay but he says he’s happy now. Billy asks what June meant. Christos tells him it is the name of his dead wife’s nurse for the last fifteen years who he was secretly in love with.
George starts to hear rumors at work of layoffs coming. On his way home, an older woman stops him and asks him if he’s George Lonnegan. She is a neighbor of Christos and he told her about the reading George gave him. She wants to talk to her dead son. George adamantly refuses saying it was a one time thing and he doesn’t do it anymore. He shuts his apartment door in her face as she bangs begging for his help. But he won’t open the door. Later, he tells Billy that a friend of Christos came to his door looking for a reading. Billy apologizes and says Christos was supposed to keep his big mouth shut. Billy urges George to go back into the psychic business and says he doesn’t understand why he quit. George refuses again and says that Billy just doesn’t understand.
George takes a nighttime cooking class and is partnered up with a young woman named Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard). The two flirt and reveal little things about each other while they cook. Melanie is new to San Francisco and is looking for friends and possibly the love of her life. Eventually, they go back to his place to cook. She admires all the pictures on his wall of his brother and his nieces. She notices an old picture of Charles Dickens. George is a huge fan. He listens to Derek Jacobi reading Dickens on tape every night. The phone rings and George doesn’t answer. It’s Billy and he leaves a message about how he talked to Christos and no one will bother George about another reading. Melanie hears this and is curious. He tells her all about his gift. He had a serious condition when he was a kid that required major surgery on the back of his head. He died multiple times on the table but came back. A few months later, he started getting migraines and eventually realized he could commune with the dead.
Melanie insists on giving her a reading. George is reluctant and says it will ruin whatever relationship they may have. He will be privy to her secrets and will learn too much about her too fast. She is insistent and he reluctantly agrees. He sees Melanie’s mother but he won’t go any further. He’s holding back. Melanie tells him to keep going. George also sees Melanie’s father and he apologizes for what he did to her when she was a child. Melanie is visibly upset and tells George he was right. They shouldn’t have done this. She leaves and tells him that they should pretend that this never happened. She goes down the stairs and cries by herself.
George is laid off from his factory job. Billy tells George that he should open up his psychic business again. Billy rents out office space and shows him around. Melanie never comes back to the cooking class. Later, Billy arrives at George’s apartment and finds a note. He apologizes to Billy but he says he just can’t do readings anymore and that what Billy sees as a gift is actually a curse to George. He takes an impromptu trip to London. Because George is such a big Dickens fan, he visits the Dickens Museum. He sees a poster for a live reading of Dickens by Derek Jacobi at the London Book Fair that day and decides to go and check it out.
London Book Fair Marcus and his foster parents arrive at the fair and Marcus tells them he wants to walk around himself. They tell him to meet them at the entrance in one hour. George listens to Jacobi read Dickens and gets a CD signed by him. He later wanders over to Marie reading from her book “Hereafter: A Conspiracy of Silence”. George is intrigued and their eyes meet. George picks up a copy of the book and gets it signed by Marie. Marcus sees George and says he recognizes him. Marcus chases George through the crowd hoping to get a reading. George refuses. George thinks he loses Marcus and goes back to Marie’s area. She is no longer there. Marcus follows George all the way back to his hotel. Marcus waits in front of George’s window through the night. Finally, George relents and lets Marcus in and agrees to get him in contact with Jason.
After telling Marcus how happy he is and that the afterlife is more wonderful than he can imagine, Jason gives him a sterner message. Through George, he tells Marcus that he cannot look after him anymore and that it is time Marcus started looking after himself. He does not need to fear being alone because he never will be alone. George begins to lose contact and Marcus tearfully pleads for Jason to stay. Jason returns and tells Marcus that he wants him to stop wearing the cap, as it was his, not Marcus'. In the train station, Jason knocked the cap off of Marcus's head to keep him from getting on the doomed train, but that's the last time he will look after him. George loses contact again and Marcus again begs Jason to return, but to no avail. As Marcus leaves George's room, he tells George he is sorry about Marie because he could tell that he liked her. George drops Marcus off at his house.
Later on, Marcus calls George at his hotel room and tells him that he found out what hotel Marie is staying at. George goes to Marie’s hotel but she is not in. He decides to leave a message and writes a note. Marcus no longer wears Jason’s cap. His foster parents take him to visit his mother in rehab. She looks better and they embrace. Marie finds the note under door and reads it. We never find out what it says. George waits at a café and sees Marie in the crowd. There is a white flash and sees himself kissing Marie in the middle of the crowd. The screen flashes again and we see George still sitting at his table at the café. He gets up and walks over to her. George and Marie shake hands. It is assumed that the two get together.
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