What Dreams May Come (Vincent Ward, 1998)
Note: The blog will be appearing on the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions on Friday, November 4. By this I mean that I will be appearing on the show AND I will be discussing the blog. This may mean that, soon, actually knowing me will not be a prerequisite to reading this blog. Now I did mention the title of the blog during the interview part of the episode, but I’m not sure that the Jeopardy! producers will leave it in. So to make sure that people find the blog, I will be loading up each post I write in the next month with Jeopardy!-friendly keywords. John Jeopardy blog sad movies blog sad blog John.
Category: Sad film whose title is taken from the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet. Other films in this genre include the Bette Midler vehicle Outrageous Fortune and the erotic massage film Ay, There’s the Rub.
Famously, this is a sad movie about the afterlife. Things that are described as happening after something else are generally bittersweet. Clearly the main thing was more important than the after thing, and so during the after thing everyone’s still kind of focused on what happened during the main thing. It’s like aftershocks to an earthquake: interesting on their own, but they’re never as exciting as the main earthquake.
This is what I imagine the afterlife might be like. Hopefully I’ll end up in a place where everyone is happy and not too hot, but I feel like most of the conversations will go like this: “So what did you do?” “I was a plumber. You?” “I wrote a blog about sad movies.” “Weird. How did you end up here?” “Natural causes. You?” “I drowned in sewage.” “Oh yeah, plumber, right. That’s rough.” No matter how much tennis you get to play with the angel Gabriel, you still gotta talk about what you know.
This is also a sad movie with Robin Williams. One of our greatest comedians, Mork from Ork has also played many dramatic roles in his long career. His record of success in these roles has been, shall we say, mixed. I’m not sure on which side of the ledger this movie will fall: the Good Will Hunting side or the Jakob the Liar side.
My familiarity with this issue: As a non-deceased individual, all I can really do is speculate on this issue. This puts me in line with everyone else on Earth, many of whom feel they can do more than speculate.
I remember seeing the trailer for this movie, in which Robin Williams like runs around through a painting or something. That seems nice, if messy. Although if heaven is really a place where anything is possible, I’m not sure that chilling in works of art would be my top priority. More likely I’d spend most of my time at heaven’s replica of Yankee Stadium, hitting home runs and striking guys out left and right. (The designated hitter rule does not exist in heaven.)
I also know from the trailer that part of the film takes place in hell. I do sincerely hope that hell is like this. (I’ve never gotten to say this before: that clip is NSFW! For weird hellish nudity. But it’s really funny, so you should watch it at home. Or just see that whole movie. It’s incredible.) The hell of this movie will be much scarier, I’m sure. Or at least not quite so Jewish.
I can understand why Robin Williams wanted to get into more dramatic roles. I think most people who get pegged as a certain kind of performer want to show people that they can do other kinds of stuff too. But there’s a difference between the straight dramatic roles (like this one, or Insomnia, for example) and the tragicomic bathos that he goes for way too often. Like, I remember watching like five minutes of Patch Adams on cable many years ago, and even then realizing what a manipulative piece of junk it was. (I’m excited to tackle that for the blog as well. In fact, we should just do an irregular series called Taste My Robin Williams! It will go along with the Taste My Sad Keanu irregular series and, of course, the Taste My Sparks irregular series. The blog is nothing if not occasionally serialized.)
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Chris Neilson dies to find himself in a heaven more amazing than he could have ever dreamed of. There is one thing missing: his wife. After he dies, his wife, Annie killed herself and went to hell. Chris decides to risk eternity in hades (sic) for the small chance that he will be able to bring her back to heaven.” Hades! What is this, Hercules?
What I thought of the movie: It’s hard to say. It was very interesting, and I liked certain aspects of it a lot. It was, for the most part, very sad, but more heavy than sad. It makes you think, sometimes in a good way, and other times in a what the hell happened to Cuba Gooding, Jr., way. And while certain plot elements and the ending are not up to the level as other parts of the movie, it’s still way better than Boat Trip.
The main draw for the movie is the art direction, which is a thing that is rarely said about movies, I think. But the conceptions of heaven and hell are really neat. As I mentioned earlier, Robin Williams spends some time in heaven frolicking through a painting, and it’s awesome. It’s completely original and weird and cool and meaningful (because his wife is an artist and he totes loves paintings). It’s the exact opposite of a superficially similar depiction of heaven in the execrable film The Lovely Bones, famously the angriest I’ve ever been while watching a film for this blog. So that’s the stuff I’ll remember from the movie.
The story is not quite as compelling, although it is very good and epic and such. It doesn’t really waste any time: Robin Williams meets Annabella Sciorra on a boat or some nonsense, they get married, have two kids, the kids die, then four years later Robin Williams dies. This all happens in thirteen minutes! That puts the beginning of Up to SHAME. Then later, Annabella Sciorra kills herself (and I hate to say “can you blame her” because that’s terrible, but she did have a rough thirteen minutes there). Goodness. So Robin Williams, until then busying himself by sloshing about in works of art, tries to rescue her from hell! Cuba Gooding and Max von Sydow are his trusty companions along the way, kind of. It’s interesting.
How I, John Krizel, related to this movie: As I said, this one’s a thinker. There are some legitimately interesting and cool spiritual elements to the movie, things that I think would resonate with people across the religious spectrum. But as so often happens in movies that introduce us to strange new worlds, it gets a bit too bogged down in the rules, in over-explaining things that probably don’t have explanations. Cuba Gooding at one point says, “There are no rules,” which, if true, would confirm my hope that heaven is very much like the Outback Steakhouse. But then it turns out he’s kind of lying, because there are supposed rules, one of them being, “you really can’t go to hell to rescue your wife.” Apparently all suicides go to hell. That's another rule, one that strikes me as a bit Sith-like in its absolutism.
There are also moments when the movie gets a bit too pseudoscientific/New Age-y for my tastes. For example, Robin Williams, living in one of his wife’s paintings, starts seeing things in the painting that she’s added after he died. Certified Heaven Tour Guide Cuba Gooding, puzzled, says that it must be that they’re soul mates, or “twin souls tuned into each other” or some faff like that, and that while he’s heard that it’s possible, he’s never seen it before, and he says it in this astonished tone that calls to mind one of those scientists from a disaster movie who can’t believe that the reading on his instruments is for real, and you almost expect Cuba to push his glasses up his nose and wipe the sweat off his brow and all of that. Like, you don’t need to do that. Just say that it’s a cool thing that means that they must really love each other a lot. Don’t tell me how many midichlorians are in their blood or whatever.
How I felt after the movie ended: (SPOILER ALERT etc etc.) The ending wasn’t the best, either. He finds her in hell, but as he was warned, she doesn’t recognize him. He’s told that he only has a few minutes to spend with her because he might lose his mind if he stays too long (again with the rules!), and so after a few minutes of trying, he decides he’ll just chill with her in hell forever and maybe one day she’ll recognize him. And then finally he reaches her, and they wake up in heaven with their kids again. It’s far too conventional to fit with the rest of the movie. And so the movie left me feeling weird and thinking a lot about death and stuff. I guess that’s something I should be used to after writing this blog for the last year, but this movie tackles death in a head-on way that most of the others haven’t.
But in the end, the movie felt authentic to me (which I know is an odd feeling to have about a movie about the afterlife). Everyone has their own personal heaven, which I think is nice (it supports my Yankee Stadium idea). Robin Williams is actually really good in the movie, as are most of the other actors. It’s the kind of movie that aspires for greatness, and even if it doesn’t quite reach it, I appreciated the effort.