Charlie St. Cloud, played by Zac Efron, is originally a boy with many dreams and aspirations, as well as a close bond with his younger brother Sam. However, after "borrowing" a car leads to a major accident, that bond is put to the ultimate test; Charlie's near-death experience leaves him able to see ghosts, including his brother's, who did not survive the crash. Ridden with guilt and clinging to an old promise, Charlie gives up his old dreams and grows up to be the caretaker to his hometown's cemetery, so that he can spend time with his brother's ghost every single afternoon. But when a yachtswoman named Tess Carroll enters his life, who may be a greater enigma than she first appears to be, Charlie must choose between clinging to his past or embracing the future.
This work provides examples of:
- Adaptation Deviation: Like so many book-based films (mostly minor ones), only the general plot of the novel remains consistent with the movie, with a heavy abundance of differences such as the setting being moved from Marblehead, Massachusetts to Quincy, Washington (for budgetary reasons) and Sam being de-aged to a year younger than his literary counterpart.
- Adult Fear: Charlie and Sam take a neighbors car to a baseball game. On the way home, they get into a crash. Charlie ends up hospitalized, and Sam doesn't survive.
- An Astral Projection, Not a Ghost Tess. Her actual body is still barely alive at the sight where her yacht crashed, and will perish if Charlie cannot find her in time.
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Sam is less of this in the book, but more so in the movie. Even so, he is still tolerable.
- But Now I Must Go: Sam's ghost passes on when Charlie chooses Tess over him.
- I See Dead People: Charlie gains this power after the car accident.
- The Reveal: Tess was in a yachting accident, and it's her astral projection that Charlie has been talking with ever since she appeared in the graveyard.
- Sadistic Choice: In the end, Charlie must choose between stopping his search for Tess to keep his promise to his brother, or saving Tess at the cost of never seeing his brother's spirit again. He ultimately picks the latter.