What Dreams May Come

May 11th, 2009 by Perfesser Deviant

What Dreams May Come   whatdreamsmaycome 80x120 romance reviews fantasy drama Director: Vincent Ward
Writer: Ronald Bass based on a book by Richard Matheson
Release Year: 1998

Hell is Robin Williams.

Annie Collins-Nielsen (Annabella Sciorra) goes crazy when her kids, Ian (Josh Paddock) and Marie (Jessica Brooks Grant), are killed in a car accident. Only the antics of her husband Chris (Robin Williams) are able to draw her back to some sense of normality, but then he’s killed too in another car accident. She doesn’t cope well, but that’s the least of the problems in this film….

(Spoilers follow…)

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Chris is one of those characters in a movie who is just too damned perfect. He’s a loving, giving, caring, understanding husband and a pediatrician as well; he should be impossible to dislike. He’s quite brave by going into the maw of Hell to find Annie, but then, after all that, he surrenders to the horrors of Hell to be with her. He behaves less like a devoted husband and father than an obsessed whack-job, something that’s not especially good to have your ostensible hero do if you want the audience to identify with him. The problem with Chris is that his cloying sweetness is really annoying and inconsistent. He dies and takes some time coming to terms with it – which is not surprising – but when he gets to heaven he doesn’t bother to ask where his kids are. Now, it makes sense that it might not occur to him right away, but when the dead family dog shows up and he expresses interest in his kids, he seems less than enthusiastic about meeting them. Considering what they’ve gotten themselves into, it’s clear that he wasn’t the best father in the first place.

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Heaven is like LSD.

The Nielsen kids have been behaving strangely since their deaths. Ian, the son, has taken the form of Dr. Albert Lewis (Cuba Gooding Jr.), his father’s dead mentor. He is the one who comes to Chris and leads him to the other world, but neglects to tell his dad who he is; this behavior seems, odd. All through the film Ian / Albert is Chris’ man who supports him in any crazy thing he wants to do, even to the gates of Hell. Marie appears to her father as flight attendant Leona (Rosalind Chao) who, like her brother, doesn’t mention her true identity. What’s especially strange about this behavior is that their father is frightened and worried about their mother, having his kids near him could be very comforting; instead, they seem intent on impressing him. This sort of striving to win parental approval is sick and twisted, but for it to continue into eternity is really, really unwholesome. The kids’ creepy hero-worshiping behavior speaks volumes about Chris’ character in life, that perhaps he wasn’t as impressive a father and, for that matter, human being, as the film would like us to believe.

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I'll be your tourguide in Hell.

Annie is not a particularly developed character. She exists only to be depressed and then to be someone who needs rescuing from her own selfish sadness that she’s lost her whole family because she’s a needy bitch. Too harsh? Her kids died because she wasn’t driving and Chris died because he was on an errand for her to keep her from slashing her wrists, again. She might feel a tad guilty after indirectly causing the deaths of all of her loved ones. The thing is though, she and Chris are soul-mates so all, apparently, is well. This brings up the issue of the nature of the soul – something that a film so otherwise empty shouldn’t mess with – how are Chris and Annie linked? I know that the concept of soul-mates is popular with a great many people, but, if they were so close, why did she not instinctively know that Chris was safe and happy? The reason, of course, is the plot used her cruelly as a device rather than a character to keep things chugging along.

 

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Hi mom, recognize us?

For killing herself, Annie is condemned to Hell; this is explained as her punishment for violating her natural instinct to stay alive. The thing is, in nature, animals too wounded to survive do simply give up and hide somewhere to die; the analogue in humans would be a woman too depressed to see any chance of survival hastening her end. So much for the natural order. Still, God – or whoever – sends people who are totally miserable into an eternity of misery to punish them for succumbing to their misery; there’s nothing like the loving kindness of old-time religion. Since Hell is not a good place, they need to enlist the aid of a Tracker (Max von Sydow) to guide them to Annie. The Tracker turns out to be the real Dr. Albert Lewis who apparently doesn’t mind Ian taking his form for whatever reason. The Tracker plays the Virgil character, leading Chris into the bowels of Hell, but this Hell – lacking demon-dogs, fire and Cenobites – is profoundly uninteresting. It does get beyond the childish idea of horrible fiery torture for all eternity to a more refined modern understanding of trapping someone in the misery of their life gone wrong.

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Oh, it's your life turned upside-down. I get it.

This film suffers from a confused mythology and a tight focus that both strain credibility. The supreme deity or whatever that rules this universe seems a bit odd as they set up an afterlife existence that has no rules and allows people to be happy, except for their loved ones trapped in a horrible place that they can never be freed from. Is there any way you could face eternity knowing that someone you loved was living a life of misery the whole time? I couldn’t. The tight focus of the film on Chris doesn’t help much either. Every scene has Chris being simply wonderful, as if he was impossibly perfect, but, underneath all that, there’s a darkness. Chris messed his kids up to the point that neither felt worthy of the love of their almighty saintlike father. His wife, likewise, existed only to love him and so, when he died, she felt no need to go on. It was only when saintly Chris decided to sacrifice himself for love that she snapped out of the fugue that Hell left her in, but, since she was in Hell for giving up in the first place, why was Chris allowed to escape after doing pretty much the same thing?

More sap than a pine Forrest Gump.

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