What Dreams May Come (PG-13)
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First I should say this movie could easily have been put in the supernatural category (and I'll include a link to it there), but I chose to actually put my review in the "romantic" category, because I happen to think it's among the most romantic movies I've ever seen. An important aspect of the story is the concept of "soulmates," which isn't something I necessarily believe in (nor is it something I necessarily disbelieve), but at least the movie makes it clear that it's very rare... which I appreciate, because I really think the overwhelming majority of people in the world who call their partner a soulmate are just plain wrong. Which is not to belittle their love for each other, by any means... it's just, I think if you're going to believe in a concept like soul mates, it should be something that goes way beyond the sort of connection that most couples have, even if they are very compatible, and very truly and deeply in love, which in itself is rather miraculous (and in fact I'm sure a hell of a lot of couples don't even have that much, so it's definitely possible for a relationship to be truly special and still not truly be soulmates). As for whether the movie makes me believe Christy (played by Robin Williams) and Annie (Annabella Sciorra) are truly soulmates, I dunno. I believe they love each other, I believe they belong together, and as for the extra degree of soulmate-ness... I'm perfectly capable of suspending disbelief (or taking it for granted that there's only so much a movie can do to demonstrate such a level of compatibility in a limited amount of storytelling time).
The movie starts with a very brief bit of narration by Williams, before we see Christy and Annie meet (cute). The story soon flashes forward to their wedding, and then immediately to the present, in which they have a son named Ian and a daughter named Marie, both of whom seem to be in roughly their early teens, I'd guess. A very little bit of time is spent showing us the life of this family, which seems ordinary enough (in a good way, that is to say, immediately recognizable and relatable, almost to the point of cliché... you know, like real life). And then, all of a sudden, we learn that the kids died in a car crash. The movie flashes forward four years. Christy and Annie are supposed to be celebrating a special anniversary (the nature of which I won't divulge), but there are complications with work (he's a pediatrician, she is a painter who also works in a museum as an art restorer or something)... and then, all of a sudden, Chris is killed in a car accident.
He meets someone named Albert (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), though at first he just calls him “Doc,” apparently having initially thought the person he was talking to (who looked blurry to him) was a doctor who was supposed to be operating on him after his accident. But eventually he sees him clearly, and realizes it's a younger version of a doctor who had been like a mentor to him, at some point in the past. Albert helps him learn about the afterlife, which provides for some stunning visual effects. At first Chris has trouble letting go of his desire to stay with his wife, but after awhile he realizes he's causing her pain by not moving on. (It's not like she was truly aware of his presence, though there were indications that their connection had not been completely severed.) And once he moves on, he eventually reunites with his children, in vaguely plot-twisty kinda ways. (Marie I found kinda predictable, but it was still a touching scene; Ian was kind of less predictable, and in fact led to another reunion for Chris. I don't really want to spoil any of those things, but they were all... nice scenes.)
Um... well, I should say that the movie frequently has flashbacks to different points in Christy's relationship with his wife, his daughter, and his son, and in some way these scenes always have some connection to what he's going through in the afterlife (which is kinda creepy if you think about it, I mean it's as if our whole life is just setting up plot points that'll be useful when we're dead, right?) But anyway... after awhile, Annie kills herself (feeling that without her husband or kids, her life is over anyway, and also feeling a misplaced sense of guilt over all their deaths). And I should say, I have my own feelings about suicide... both in a general sense, and as something I might do myself, someday. I dunno. But... as for the story at hand, I should say that it mentions things like “heaven” and “hell,” but it's not so much religious as metaphysical. I kind of liked the way that was handled, but even so... people who kill themselves... go to this movie's version of hell. Not because it's a sin or anything, but because they can't accept with what they've done, so they can't realize they're dead. I've always found it impossible to accept the idea of moral judgment on the basis of suicide, and Chris himself doesn't like it, either. Still, he convinces Albert that just because no one in what passes for heaven has ever heard of anyone getting out of what passes for hell, doesn't mean it's technically impossible. And because Christy and Annie are soulmates, there's a chance of him finding her (with the help of a tracker, played by Max von Sydow).
So... that... seems like a lot of major spoilers, but really, it's the minimum I can possibly reveal to adequately explain the premise of the movie. Christy goes to “hell” to try to find Annie, and hopefully, against all odds, bring her back (while everyone else tells him the most he can hope for is to say his goodbyes, since even if he finds her, nothing he can say will make her recognize him, let alone accept that she's dead; and besides, he's risking possibly losing his mind and being trapped forever in Annie's personal hell). I won't say how it ends, but I will say that the movie has amazing visuals, interesting philosophy (sort of), some nice, subtle humor, a lot of darkness and despair, and a lot of joy. And a recurring mantra, “never give up,” which is perhaps truer here than it's ever been. And the very end, I mean the very, very end... is about as cute and sweet and beautiful as anything you're ever going to see in a movie. Well, the whole film pretty much constantly tugs at your heart strings and tear ducts. It's all rather manipulative, but I can't seem to care. I think the movie's great in spite of my cynicism. (The only problem, really, is that it makes me think of someone I once thought was my own soulmate, who turned out not to be. But I can get beyond that, because the movie's not about me and her, it's about Christy and Annie. And I dig Christy and Annie.)
I should also mention that after the movie, I watched an alternate ending, which had its good points, but I'm really glad it wasn't used. It had the same basic concept as the ending that was used, but virtually none of the charm.