What Dreams May Come

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What Dreams May Come is a visually rich film without a well-thought-out story to give it depth. This tale of the afterlife makes for some good eye candy, but little else.

Robin Williams stars as Chris Nielsen, a successful pediatrician with a beautiful wife, Annie (Annabella Sciorra), two great kids (Jessica Brooks Grant and Josh Paddock), and a wonderful life... until about five minutes in, that is. You see, Chris faces an untimely death, and most of the film is concerned with his adventures in the afterlife.

Giving him a helping hand in Heaven is his old mentor, Albert (Cuba Gooding Jr.). Everyone creates their own Heaven, from their subconscious thoughts and dreams. Chris' personal afterlife is based upon his beloved wife's paintings...literally a world beautifully created from paint.

It seems that Chris and Annie are soulmates. Even though he is in a world where he can have nearly everything he wants...Chris wants to reunite with Annie. With the help of a tracker (Max Von Sydow), Chris begins a quest...to reunite with his wife.

The imagery throughout What Dreams May Come is simply breathtaking. The afterlife is rendered with a captivatingly original vision. However, it is so well done, that the Earthly scenes can't compete. Chris' Earthly life seems moribund and uninteresting...a crucial flaw, since the entire plot involves Chris' struggle to reconcile that life.

The film struggles for deep meaning, but can't escape its simplicity. Chris' entire life is distilled into only four total friends and family members. Wasn't there anyone else to whom he was close? Relatives? Friends? Childhood pets? Apparently not. Even in his past lives (a subject which the film brings up on several occasions...but never truly explores).

In fact, "unexplored" is a good word to sum up many of the faults of What Dreams May Come. The film brings up plenty of potentially interesting ideas...then proceeds to ignore them. For example, we are treated to one example of a soul in heaven playing a prank on another soul. Can conflict exist in the afterlife? Assuming that the souls are immortal and can suffer no jeopardy...what is to prevent it?

Even in its Earthly details, the film's oversimplification is damaging. Chris' dilemmas seem to spring out of nothingness, since we know very little about his life. For example, there's a scene where Chris encounters a man who may be his father. But since we never knew his father before...what kind of man he was, or his relationship with Chris...the scene is completely robbed from its impact.

The film might have been better served by a stricter chronological order. Telling its tale in flashbacks does give the film the opportunity to gradually uncover its story, but leaves the film without any foundation to build upon. As it stands, the opening of the film feels hopelessly rushed, and all of Chris' latter problems seem utterly contrived.

Robin Williams falls back upon his "warm-and-fuzzy" style of dramatic acting here. It suffices to get the movie from Point A to Point B, but fails to draw the audience deeply into his character...we never get to see Chris Nielsen as a real person.

What Dreams May Come may masquerade as a philosophical journey through Heaven and Hell, but in reality, it's a colorful film in search of substance.

[PG-13] (Polygram)

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