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What Dreams May Come

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: What Dreams May Come

Starring: Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Director: Vincent Ward
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: October 1998
Genres: Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Annabella Sciorra, Max von Sydow

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Remember that song, "When at last our life on earth is through,/ I will share eternity with you..."? You've got to like someone quite a bit to want that, and in "What Dreams May Come" the world has finally found just that sort of person. With a title that pretentiously derives from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and a theme that resonates from "Romeo and Juliet," "What Dreams May Come" is a leading contender for the year's raspberry awards--perhaps the silliest film since "The Postman." The screenplay, such as it is, is by Ron Bass, who wrote the script to "The Rainman," but perhaps the credits got it wrong: it seems to have been written by The Rainman. As co-star Cuba Gooding Jr. records in the production notes, one of his lines is "Thought is real and physical is the illusion." This is presumably his idea of one of the better lines in the narrative.

The subject of the afterlife, of what happens to us after we die, has fascinated people for millenia. We wonder about reincarnation, westerners perhaps hoping for it while Hindus consider it a punishment. We wonder as well about love in all its ramifications. Love and death: not only the title of one of Woody Allen's funniest films but the two subjects that preoccupy us the most. It's no wonder that these themes and also their most cinematic equivalents, sex and violence, have been the principal focus of poets, philosophers, and theologians for centuries and filmmakers for a hundred years. Combine the two in a single story and you have the potential makings of big box office. But treat the subjects as though you're condescending to a mass audience, challenging them to understand Great Ideas while dishing out nothing but affected pap and you're likely to have a flop on your hands.

"What Dreams May Come" features Robin Williams (who, like Woody Allen, should stick to comedy), Cuba Gooding Jr. (likewise), Annabella Sciorra (who is so stunning that even with a bad rug and crippled colloquy she's a pleasure to watch), and Max von Sydow (who appears throughout in such psychic pain and embarrassment he could probably use an exorcist). When Chris Nielsen (Robin Williams), a doctor who is able charm a smile out of a migrainous child, dies after a gruesome auto accident (he is apparently hit on the head by a flying vehicle), he goes to heaven, and since heaven's reality is nothing more or less than our thoughts, he is plunged into the colorful world of his wife's impressionistic paintings. He runs into Albert (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who is actually an incarnation of someone he admired on earth, and is advised that human beings are not their arms or legs or heart or even their brain. "The brain is just meat," he instructs, assuring Chris that we are our thoughts. So Chris just keeps conjuring up the lovely paintings of his wife Annie (Annabella Sciorra) and watches the trees turn into Monets and even sinks into a pool of paint. He changes the colors of a bird faster than a 400 mHz computer with an expert keyboarder could do the trick. Meanwhile Annie, having recently cracked up because both of her children had previously died in a car accident for which she blames herself, decides she cannot live without family. She commits suicide and goes below. Since hell hath no fury like a man forlorn, Chris walks, runs and flies to her place of perdition, guided by The Tracker (Max Von Sydow). What ultimately happens to man and wife after they meet is anybody's guess. Their pet Dalmation, the only actor too discrete to allow her name to appear in the credits, is the only rational being in the narrative.

It's unfortunate because you'll rarely unearth another film with such visual imagination and glorious use of color. When Chris makes his perigrinations through heaven, the big screen is awash in all the colors and imaginative design that have contributed to the reputations of nineteenth century painters such as Monet and Van Gogh. His flights over hills and valleys could have inspired Magritte, his stomping across a sea of talking heads would please many a German expressionist. Since the production insists on a Shakesperean quote for its title, i.e. Hamlet, Act III, scene i, it's only fair for the audience to come up with its own. How about the one from Richard III, Act I scene iv, "O, I have passed a miserable night!"

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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