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What Dreams May Come (1998) is a dreamlike, slightly trippy journey through the afterlife, as experienced by Chris Nielsen (Robin Williams), and his soul mate Annie Collins (Annabella Sciorra). It is based on the 1978 novel of the same title by Richard Matheson and directed by Vincent Ward.
Chris and Annie's Idyllic marriage is shattered when their two children are killed in a car wreck. Annie becomes emotionally unstable and must be institutionalized, but four years later the two reconcile. On the anniversary of the tragedy, however, Chris is killed in yet another car accident, and finds himself in heaven. Despite his new home in paradise, Chris is unhappy without Annie, and when she commits suicide out of guilt over Chris' death, he travels through hell to find her, determined to bring her back to Paradise.
The film was shot largely on Fuji Velvia film and is one of the few films to be done so. The Fuji Velvia film is known among landscape photographers for its vivid color reproduction and it shows. The film was not particularly successful at the box office. It earned $55,382,927 at the United States market, only the 40th most successful film of its year. It was released to mixed reviews, on one hand praised for the visuals of the overall film and strong performances from the two leading actors. On the other hand, it was criticized for significant deviations from its source novel, a sense of "morose sentimentality" and lack of genuine drama and/or conflict. It won an Academy Award for its Visual Effects and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction. It lost to Shakespeare in Love.
What Dreams May Come contains examples of:
- Acid Trip Dimension: The visions of heaven and hell are based on paintings from across the centuries; even the flowers are made of paint.
- Actor Allusion: Max von Sydow is at home with this material.
- Art Initiates Life: Chris' view of heaven is heavily inspired by his wife's paintings.
- Black Bug Room: Annie's hell.
- Book Ends: At the beginning and end, Annie and Chris meet at a lake when their boats crash into each other. At the beginning as adults with actual boats, and at the end as children with remote-controlled toy boats.
- Childhood Friend Romance: Annie and Chris decide to be reincarnated. They are and meet again as small children. It's pretty much a given that the soul mates will be each others' Victorious Childhood Friend.
- Dead to Begin With: Chris travels through hell to rescue his wife's soul.
- Death by Adaptation: Chris and Annie's children don't die in the book.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: You earn said happy ending by literally going to hell and back.
- Epiphanic Prison: This is the setup for Hell.
- The Film of the Book
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: Averted and outright stated to not be what Hell is. Hell is what you make of it.
- Fisher King: In the novel, everyone in the afterlife is the ruler of their own personal paradise.
- Framing Device: The novel is presented as a manuscript dictated to a psychic by Chris and delivered to Chris's (still living) brother by said psychic.
- Heaven: Made of paint!
- Hell: Self-inflicted variety.
- To Hell and Back: Chris' journey, making up the core of the movie.
- Hell Is War: Parts of it, anyway.
- Hell of a Heaven: The driving force of the plot is how heaven isn't the heaven without his wife.
- Ironic Echo: "Sometimes when you win, you lose." Which eventually morphs to "Sometimes when you lose, you win."
- Ironic Hell
- Justified Extra Lives: Reincarnation FTW.
- Literary Allusion Title: From the "To be or not to be" soliloquy from Hamlet.
- Near-Death Clairvoyance
- Nostalgia Heaven
- Orphean Rescue: Chris's quest to retrieve Annie from hell.
- Race Fetish: Discussed. Chris offhandedly remarks that he thinks Asian girls are beautiful, leading his daughter to believe that only Asian girls are beautiful.
- Refusing Paradise - After escaping Hell, Chris and Annie have an opportunity to spend eternity in a literal house of their dreams in Heaven, but choose to be reincarnated in order to get a second chance at a successful Childhood Friend Romance.
- Likewise, the central premise of the movie: Chris has the option of living in Heaven for all eternity, but ventures into Hell instead -- against the advice of everyone around him -- on the off chance he'll be able to rescue his soulmate.
- Reincarnation Romance: In the end, Chris and Annie are reincarnated and meet as little kids in a scene that the makers of those Precious Moments figurines would kill for.
- In the original ending, he's reincarnated as a middle aged white man who marries a young Indian woman who dies a few years later. He spends decades, the rest of his life, mourning her.
- Rescued From
PurgatoryHell: Chris attempts to do this for his wife. He succeeds against all odds.
- Scenery Porn: Heaven is literally an impressionist painting for Chris.
- Self-Inflicted Hell
- Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Shiny. Very very shiny. Heaven is made of shiny.
- Too Happy to Live
- What Could Have Been: Annette Bening was originally cast to play Annie. She opted out and Annabella Sciorra replaced her.
- You Are Worth Hell: Chris outright says that if he cannot rescue Annie from Hell, he's staying. This self-sacrifice is what saves her.
- You Look Familiar: In-universe- Chris' son assumes the form of Chris' mentor. Later they meet up with Chris' mentor, who has assumed the form of Max Von Sydow.
- You Were Trying Too Hard
- Your Mind Makes It Real: Said almost word-for-word (re: Hell) in the original novel. In the film, both Heaven and Hell work this way in opposite directions.