Principal Cast : Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr, Annabella Sciorra, Max von Sydow, Jessica Brooks Grant, Josh Paddock, Rosalind Chao, Lucinda Jenney, Maggie McCarthy.
Synopsis: Chris Nielsen dies in an accident, and enters Heaven. But when he discovers that his beloved wife Annie has killed herself out of grief over the loss, he embarks on an afterlife adventure to reunite with her.
What Dreams May Come, directed by Vincent Ward and released in 1998, is a visually mesmerizing film that showcases Robin Williams in a role that allows his versatility as an actor to shine. While the film’s visual effects and Williams’ earnest performance are undoubtedly praiseworthy, it ultimately suffers from a dour tone, an impenetrable plot, and meandering direction.
The film follows the story of Chris Nielsen, played by Robin Williams, a successful paediatrician who shares a deep and passionate love with his wife, Annie (Annabella Sciorra). Their life is seemingly perfect, but tragedy strikes when their two children die in a car accident. As they try to cope with their unbearable grief, Chris and Annie’s marriage begins to crumble under the weight of their sorrow. The tragedy takes an even darker turn when Chris himself is killed in a car accident while attempting to help a car crash victim. He finds himself in a surreal, painted world that represents his version of heaven. Here, he is greeted by his beloved dog and a guardian angel named Albert (Cuba Gooding Jr). Back on Earth, Annie is devastated by the loss of her husband and is consumed by guilt over the deaths of their children. Her despair pushes her to the brink of suicide. Meanwhile, Chris is determined to reach out to her from the afterlife, to help her find her way out of her own personal hell.
Let’s start with the positives. The visual elements of What Dreams May Come are nothing short of breath-taking. The film’s depiction of the afterlife is a stunning visual feast that explores a surreal, painterly world that manages to be both beautiful and haunting. The creative use of colour, especially the vivid and surreal landscapes, makes the film an artistic marvel. The visuals alone are reason enough to watch this film, and they give the audience an otherworldly experience that lingers in the memory long after the credits roll.
Robin Williams delivers a performance that is both heartfelt and emotionally charged. Known primarily for his comedic roles, he proves his dramatic acting chops in What Dreams May Come. His portrayal of a man who embarks on a journey through the afterlife to save his wife from a personal hell is both touching and sincere. Williams brings depth and vulnerability to his character, making it easy for the audience to empathize with his plight. His performance adds a much-needed anchor to the film’s emotional core.
However, where the film falters is in its tone and narrative. What Dreams May Come delves into heavy and melancholic themes, dealing with loss, grief, and the afterlife, but it often leans into a tone that can feel oppressively dour. The film struggles to find a balance between its darker elements and moments of hope and redemption, leaving the viewer emotionally drained and disconnected from the characters. The film explores themes of love, loss, the afterlife, and the power of the human spirit. Chris’s unwavering love for Annie drives him to defy the boundaries of heaven and hell, ultimately challenging the rules of the afterlife, but the connective tissue with the audience doesn’t mesh, leaving the viewer feeling vacant from the intended emotional heft.
The plot, at times, feels impenetrable and overly complex. While it’s clear that the film is attempting to explore profound philosophical and spiritual questions, it often becomes tangled in its own complexity, leaving the audience feeling lost and disconnected from the narrative. The storytelling meanders, making it difficult to stay fully engaged with the story’s progression. The direction by Vincent Ward, while visually ambitious, often feels unfocused and unsure of its intended destination. The film’s pacing is inconsistent, with some scenes feeling rushed and others dragging on. This inconsistency detracts from the overall coherence of the film and exacerbates the disconnect between the audience and the characters’ emotional journey.
What Dreams May Come is a film of contrasting qualities. Its stunning visuals and Robin Williams’ heartfelt performance are unquestionable strengths that make it worth a watch. However, the film’s dour tone, impenetrable plot, and meandering direction create a divide between the audience and the story’s emotional core. It’s a film that leaves you with a sense of admiration for its ambition and visuals but ultimately longing for a more cohesive and emotionally resonant experience.