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The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

R | | Drama | 21 November 1997 (USA)
0:31 | Trailer

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A bus crash in a small town brings a lawyer to the town to defend the families, but he discovers that everything is not what it seems.



(novel), (screenplay)
Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 33 wins & 52 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Caerthan Banks ...
Tom McCamus ...
Kirsten Kieferle ...
Earl Pastko ...
David Hemblen ...
Sarah Rosen Fruitman ...


A small community is torn apart by a tragic accident which kills most of the town's children. A lawyer visits the victims' parents in order to profit from the tragedy by stirring up the their anger and launching a class action suit against anyone they can blame. The community is paralyzed by its anger and cannot let go. All but one young girl, left in a wheelchair after the accident, who finds the courage to lead the way toward healing. Written by Matthew Tichenor <mticheno@direct.ca>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

bus | lawyer | child | anger | school | See All (197) »


Sometimes courage comes from the most surprising places. See more »



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for sexuality and some language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:



Release Date:

21 November 1997 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El dulce porvenir  »

Box Office


CAD 5,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$31,149 (USA) (10 October 1997)


$4,306,697 (USA) (3 April 1998)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Atom Egoyan was inspired to do this movie by a novel his wife Arsinée Khanjian gave him as a Christmas gift. See more »


When Stephens visits the Ottos, and Mr. Otto offers him some tea, we hear a teakettle whistling but the one we see on the cooker is not the whistling type. See more »


Mitchell Stephens: I can help you.
Billy Ansell: Not unless you can raise the dead.
See more »


Referenced in Daydream Nation (2010) See more »


Words and Music by The Tragically Hip
Courtesy of Universal Music/Ball Music, Inc. and Little Smoke Music, Inc.
Performed by The Tragically Hip
See more »

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User Reviews

Not for everyone, but this melancholy film stays with you long after its over...
26 January 2000 | by (Phoenix, Az) – See all my reviews

I re-watched The Sweet Hereafter on video last night, and am still haunted by it today. It is structured so that you know some of the basic tragic plot near the beginning. This caused my eyes to water at some of the beautiful lyrical overhead tracking shots of the school bus winding through the snow covered roads of the Pacific northwest.

The film switches between the time that the lawyer arrives in town to "help" the families receive compensation, and to days just prior to the accident. We witness a loving "hippie" couple who has adopted a beautiful Native American boy, a loving mother of a school phobic learning disabled boy, and a widower who loves his two children a great deal and sees them off to school by following them in his truck. This same widower is having an affair with the mother of the school phobic--she is unhappily married to a "pig" of a husband. Complicating matters is the father who obviously loves his teenage daughter in Lolita-like fashion.

Part of the theme of The Sweet Hereafter is similar to Magnolia--accidents do happen--perhaps no one at fault... or perhaps all the adults had some part in it without anyone being at fault, as only the innocent children were killed.

The town had changed... tragedy has taken away the town's joy and innocence. The parents are no longer open with each other, but guarded, suspicious... in deep grief.

The lawyer is little more than an ambulance chaser, attempting to profit off their tragedy. Yet, he, too is a tragic figure who has already "lost" his daughter--

He had saved her when she was a baby, yet she has now turned away from him... and his feelings are now ambivalent towards her--he is a grief-stricken, defeated father, who vascillates between wanting to talk with his daughter on his cell phone and deciding to cut her off.

The story of the Pied Piper is interweaved between various events in the movie to give greater depth to the story. There's also a great scene in the movie between the lawyer and the garage mechanic, who has lost his two children, that shows that the theme is much broader than the literal story:

"I'm telling you this because... we've all lost our children, Mr. Ansel. They're dead to us. They kill each other in the streets. They wander comatose in shopping malls. They're paralyzed in front of televisions. Something terrible has happened that's taken our children away. It's too late. They're gone."

This movie isn't for everyone. It's a serious, layered piece with a lot of melancholy. The kind of fare that film critics can love, but Academy voters will avoid. But what it strives to accomplish is done very well. And it will stay with you long after the final scenes have appeared.

38 of 45 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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