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What Dreams May Come  

Many lovers like to say to each other their loves will be eternal. You might say, however, that it is idealistic, if touching, nonsense. But, could you prove such a thing? You don`t know what happens after death any more than I do. Perhaps "life" does continue in some form after we leave, and maybe those relationships can still encounter obstacles. This is the circumstance involving a married couple, played by Robin Williams and Annabella Sicorra, in the metaphysical, stunning love story What Dreams May Come.

The setup of the movie is very routine. The two meet accidentally while rowing, and immediately we see simple scenes of courtship, marriage, and family. Then tragedy strikes. The two children are killed in a terrible car accident, then only a few scenes later, Williams himself is killed in a chilling moment. This is where the true purpose of the film begins. Williams is now in the afterlife, and you get an luxurious glimpse of what it might be like for such an individual. The movie tells and shows not just the heaven itself, but one`s own personal reaction to that heaven.

While watching this film, I came under the realization that if Ingmar Bergman had been a special-effects wizard with a perverse delight in happy endings, he could`ve been the director of this movie. And a slower, less knowledgeable mind than even I might have very well believed Bergman was that very man in the director`s chair, especially when suddenly Max Von Sydow shows up, in a severe and stern character role, and to guide Robin Williams through Hell, no less. But when you realize that Bergman is now some 80-something man resting somewhere in the frigid Swedish countryside, and hasn`t directed a film since the very un-modern setting of Fanny and Alexander in 1982, you realize Bergman has not made a staggering comeback, to show that he is indeed relevant to our Star Wars generation. Besides, this film makes too much sense (at least for anyone who`s suffered through Persona, at any rate!) and usually people grow even more fractured and senile as they age!

Now why did I mention Bergman? I did because this film also deals with the major questions of life, especially death (a pretty common occurrence in Bergman). But, in our special-effects age, these ideas are expressed mainly in visuals, where most of the brilliance of the film comes from. When Robin Williams` character dies, he experiences a series of images of events occurring after his death, like his funeral, and assorted periods of grieving. He is accompanied by a man, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., who appears to Williams as a blurred, indistinct apparition. The reason for this is explained as Williams` natural refusal of his own death. He can still see clearly and distinctly the world of his previous existence, but cannot fully comprehend, much less accept, figures accompanying a whole new realm of reality. Of course, just as one eventually gets used to the light after coming out of a long period in the dark, Williams eventually is able to be visually accustomed to the new reality of the afterlife. And what a reality it is. He suddenly appears in a unique landscape, a representation of his wife`s painting. And like a painting, the textures are similar, even to the point where the colors aren`t even dry, allowing Williams to make sloppy footprints on the ground.

Back on earth, Siccora`s character is in crisis. Now that she is without husband, or children, she is no longer happy, and slowly but surely develops a suicidal state of mind. When Williams finds out that she has killed herself, he believes they will at least finally be reunited. But the problem is that someone who kills oneself has in effect denounced the extraordinary gift of life, and so is sent into hell. One who commits suicide denies the responsibility inherent in the earthly life; they have taken the easy route out, and as punishment, they are forever condemned to wallow in their self-pity and suffering. Williams cannot accept the eternal fate of his soulmate, and this is the point where he enlists Sydow to journey with him to Hell and rescue his wife. (And who wouldn`t want to rescue Annabella Siccora????) Hell`s landscape is as equally great to look at as the Heaven, with pale bodies screaming in agony in a cold lake, heads poking from the ground, and finally, Siccora`s own ragged appearance when she is finally found.

Another equally good insight is the notion that people have their own personal Heaven and Hell. William`s heaven is created simply for him, for he has a love of art and especially of his wife`s work. And as well, Siccora`s hell could only be as grim as it is because she is forced to suffer endlessly through her own pain. This makes perfect sense; in life we can only relate to events in a personal, subjective way, so if we are to go to either the best or worst places when we die, it only stands to reason that they are the best or worst because they will give you the most pleasurable or ugly feelings. Clearly, this vision is secular rather than Christian, but sense I lean much more to the former than the latter, this is a more natural vision for me to understand, even if I don`t necessarily take it seriously.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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