by Ralph Dumain

What Dreams May Come, in the parlance of American cretinism, gets the proverbial two thumbs up. I was fortunate to be able to view this film with a thoughtful person: I am fairly confident that our subsequent penetrating discussion was the only intelligent one that transpired in a nation bereft of critical thinking.

There are some limitations in the world view behind the story, but this film was excellent: visually gorgeous, gripping, and thought-provoking.  No wonder it went over the heads of stupid movie reviewers in spite of its concessions to conventional family values.  The original story was written by Richard Matheson, veteran science fiction & horror fiction writer.  (I'm surprised he is still alive.  He wrote classic stories for The Twilight Zone decades ago.)  The star is Robin Williams, who is a damn good serious actor.  The photography is unbelievably beautiful, and the special effects make the landscapes look like impressionist paintings, which is the whole point.

The premise is simple enough.  Robin Williams loses his children in a car accident.  A few years later, he too dies in an accident, whereupon he discovers the afterlife.  The only family member left alive is his wife, who is an artist, and whose sanity is taxed even further after her husband's death.  The afterlife itself has some peculiar properties.  As everything that happens is a creation of one's imagination (as opposed to traditional heaven or hell), so the question is how one learns to navigate and stabilize one's imaginative landscape as well as how to interact with other departed spirits.  Loved ones in the afterlife may not at first appear in their true form. The link between the dead and the living as well as among the dead is the imagination, and in this case, art.  Ultimately, Robin Williams must rescue his wife, who enters the afterlife as well, from a subjective hell into which her own depressed imagination has hopelessly imprisoned her.

If one could make a movie illustrating William Blake's belief that the imagination is the true human reality and the true vehicle for the communion of souls, this movie gives a glimpse of what the properties of an imaginative universe would be.  This shifting and sometimes confusing universe, combined with the visual brilliance and beauty of this film (cum special effects with a purpose), are unusually mind-expanding for the usual crappy, stereotypical American films made for imbeciles.  This may have been a futile exercise, though, if its audience failed to ponder and analyze what it saw.  Here is where conventionalism comes in: the mental universe here is limited to the love between family members, and the rest of the "natural order" hinted at in the film remains a mystery.  This is consonant with the typical American propensity to ignore society and recognize only immediate, personal, and conventional human relationships.  Thus, even in the beyond, one remains a provincial middle-class American, devoid of curiosity about the big picture. This is not to trivialize what the film actually offers, which is about love, fear, inner strength, understanding, and determination.  The afterlife is not that of Christianity.  This is the best use of the concept of the afterlife I've seen since the forgotten but brilliant and wicked satireThe Adding Machine (1969, based on Elmer Rice's play). What Dreams May Come revolves around imagination and art, and for that reason, in spite of the conceptual limitations and other conventional themes that circumscribe its horizon, this film can take one out of mundane reality and make one's spirit soar.  The inquisitive intellect who is willing to question the boundaries and contradictions of the story can soar even further.

13 March 1999, revised & uploaded 30 June 2001

Pondering the Spirit World with Seinfeld

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Uploaded 30 June 2001

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