“The Sweet Hereafter : An unflinching lament for the human condition. ”
– Roger Ebert.
“The Sweet Hereafter” is one of the most emotionally devastating & complex dramas that never gives any simple answers. It asks its audience to vicariously get into the psyche of characters and understand them, which is painful and then concludes the reasoning for their state.
The screenplay in itself plays like a puzzle which makes it quite difficult to keep up with any character. What makes even more difficult that audience need to keep shifting their already built empathy from one character to another character.
The Sweet Hereafter is not about what led to the tragic accident that killed fourteen children, also not about a lawyer who will bring justice through the crack of the legal system, nor does the film give any conclusive answers. Instead, it revolves around characters who carry the different burden of secrets and grief. Like you might think that Lawyer, Mitchell (Ian Holm) is in the city to make some heavy cash, but one look into his eyes, and it clears your doubt that money is not the motive here.
For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew,
And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
and everything was strange and new.
-Robert Browning, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”
We have one the most complex characters that of Nicole (Sarah Powell) who is one of the survivors of the accident. It is the genius work of Egoyan to chip in “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” as controlling metaphor that speaks a lot about Nicole’s state of mind. Her emotional conflict is exactly like the only crippled child left in the town who didn’t follow Piper’s song. And then there is Billy who doesn’t want to have any legal trouble in the village. He doesn’t want to disrupt whatever left harmony in the town. But is actually that the reason ?
The Sweet Hereafter will leave you with many unanswered questions, whose answers will never be rational. It will significantly change with every individual on where they want to incline their empathy and how far they are ready to get emotionally drained. Atom Egoyan’s first adaptation, The Sweet Hereafter is a dense, rich, and complex meditation on the impact of a horrific tragedy on a small town. It’s a powerful film that derives its conscience from evocative subtlety.