Hereafter: Made-from-Scratch Pesto Sauce Recipe

Year Released: 2010
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Matt Damon, Cecile De France, George McLaren, Frankie McLaren
(PG-13, 126 min.)

"Death—the last sleep? No, it is the final awakening." Walter Scott

Matt Damon sees dead people, and he’s none too happy about it. And neither is Marie, the French television personality who has been one for an instant, nor Marcus, the English lad who has seen the grim reaper’s hand at close quarters.

But don’t expect the exquisitely plotted surprise and drama of The Sixth Sense. Eighty-year-old Clint Eastwood’s behind the camera view is more a reverie on the fragile yet binding ties that exist here as well as after.

Put aside the usual for Dirty Harry or Jason Bourne, known chiefly for sending others to the great beyond with nary a thought, and watch them now consider that murky shadow land.

Yes, Hereafter considers, but does not really explore in any great depth what happens after we die. Rather it accepts the vague details of those who have purportedly died – the white light, the welcoming shades, and the occasional talker who communicates back to a loved one through a medium.

We’re not in Victorian London, though, with a darkened chamber and hands held around a mahogany table that begins to quake as a turbaned matron suddenly talks in the gruff accents of dearly departed Uncle Harry.

No, it’s San Francisco we’re talking about, with a sweet and reluctant George Lonegan (Matt Damon), whose connection to the dead is as painfully real as the Victorian dame’s was false. The film even gives us a somewhat rational explanation for his psychic powers, too, tracing their advent to a childhood neurological infection and ensuing surgery, not too unlike Peter Hurkos, the Dutch housepainter who fell from a ladder, knocked himself out, and woke up with psychic powers after his week long coma. 

And this psychic ability is a curse, not a blessing to George, who has given up the once lucrative trade and now works at a factory. “A life that is all about death is no life at all.”

Similarly, over in France, Marie Lelay’s (Cecile De France) newly awakened psychic visions isolate her as well. Once the toast of the town, her image smiling down from billboards all over Paris, the television news personality cannot get over her near death experience in Indonesia’s tsunami. Distracted at work, she takes a temporary leave to write a book about Francois Mitterrand, but becomes obsessed with her experience and instead pens a work about it. But in her sphere the secular orthodoxy is every bit as rigid as the Inquisition’s iron-fisted dogma once was; thus she loses her “sophisticated” lover/producer and her publisher all in one fell swoop. America, always the wild card, yields a publisher willing to take her on.

The third color of our tapestry, distant threads we know will ultimately interweave in the now almost clichéd tradition of Babel and Crash, takes place in London. Marcus and Jason (George and Frankie McLaren) are sad-eyed twins with the same earnest innocence of nine-year-old Coel Sear (Haley Joel Osment) who captured out hearts in The Sixth Sense. We catch them with a photographer, who coaxes the essentials of their complementary personalities out of the two as he captures their smiles on film, or on his digital camera, which may be the case, though it does not roll as trippingly off the tongue. It’s one of those photos we instantly see as tragically sweet and fit to grace the Sunday obits -- at least one half of it, that is.

I agree with some critics who argue that to have these three stories converge is a bit contrived. And necessity makes each a sketch rather than a portrait, but Eastwood does well in choosing just the right telling details to acquaint us with his characters. In addition to the spot at the photography studio, we watch the two brothers desperately walking their loving but drug-addicted mother through a charade to prove her competence to the social workers who show up at their doorstep. A little like Weekend at Bernie’s with their mother a kind of walking corpse rather than a real one.

George’s longing for normalcy is poignantly portrayed in his night school Italian cooking class, where he meets someone as outwardly eager to connect as he secretly is. Melanie, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, the daughter of Ron Howard, is as lovely as her father is now homely, and gives her character just the right blend of ebullience and cut to the chase semi-neurotic honesty. Their blind-folded tasting session, arranged by the charismatic instructor, who seems as intent upon romantic pairing as culinary ones, is a sensual delight on a par with the one so aptly done in Mostly Martha.

Marie’s final dinner with her one time lover shows us her reawakened wit and savvy, while exposing his smug superficiality. And that reminds us of the reason she and not he was caught in the tsunami, a little detail I will not disclose, but one that nails his character early on.

It is a fitting tribute to Charles Dickens, George’s favorite author, that the film contains unforgettable characters, particularly the English twins so like the sweet youths of that author’s work, while the European maxim to ask questions rather than answer them reminds us of Russia’s own Anton Chekov. Throw in the extra sensory, otherworldly themes of producer Stephen Spielberg and we have one heck of a hybrid.

Toss away your usual expectations and simply enjoy.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Perhaps going to sleep listening Derek Jacobi reading Dickens does not satisfy George as much as he would like to think. Maybe that’s why he enrolls in an Italian cooking class at night. 

And what a class! The instructor – Steve Schirripa, or Bobby ‘Bacala’ Baccalieri from “The Sopranos” -- opens with everyone sipping a glass of red wine and listening to opera music. Not quite what we are programmed to expect from night school. It’s enough to send anyone back to the classroom, especially when the teacher does some friendly match-making when he suggests cooking partners, carefully putting the beautiful redhead with shy George and the white-haired little lady with the older gentleman who has the twinkle in his eye.

So why not put on some Pavarotti, break out the pasta, and put together one heck of a made-from-scratch sauce. I’m opting out of the tomato sauce they make in the film and going for pesto. Not a bad idea, especially since I’ve got a bumper crop of basil this year.

Buon appetito!

Made-from-Scratch Pesto Sauce

A few friendly words from our chef:

Pesto, which originated in Genoa, Italy, comes from the Italian word pestare that means to pound or to bruise. The traditional way of making pesto and still the best way is with mortar and pestle. Doesn't mortar and pestle just sound bruising? You can use your blender or food processor if in a hurry or if you're making large quantities, but they go far beyond bruising, they puree those poor tender basil leaves. Typically, pesto is made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper, but why not experiment with various herbs and nuts and cheeses to come up with your own special pesto.

Whenever I make a batch of pesto, I keep some in the refrigerator and freeze a bunch in ice cube trays. When frozen, I remove them from the trays and store them frozen in zip lock bags. This way whenever I need a quick pasta meal or I want to add some flavor to one of my soups, I have my supply. Plus as I mntioned earlier, the price of basil during the summer compared to wintertime makes freezing a batch worth the effort.

 Ingredients 

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts (pignolia)
  • 1 dash salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese grated 

How to Make at Home

The traditional way of making pesto is with a mortar and pestle. Start by adding basil, garlic, salt, and pine nuts to the mortar and grinding them to a paste. Pound in the cheese. Finally whisk in the oil until you have the desired consistency.

As much as I enjoy trying traditional methods, I usually don't have the time or energy to bruise basil leaves so I reach for my food processor and puree a batch in a matter of minutes. If you don’t have a food processor, you can also use a blender. Here's how I make my pesto sauce.
Add the garlic to the food processor and mince. Next, add the basil leaves, pine nuts, and a dash of salt and pepper to the bowl of the processor. While the processor is running, slowly drizzle in olive oil through the feed tube until all the ingredients are pureed.

You may need to stop the processor at this point and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula to get every mixed together. Now add Parmesan cheese and mix it into the rest of the mixture. If the pesto is too thick, add a tablespoon of water.

Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to use it. This should keep for 2 - 3 days in the fridge but freezes well if you want to keep it longer. Enjoy.

Recipe Source: The Reluctant Gourmet