Saturday, December 29, 2007

Movies I Loved That Everyone Else Hated: What Dreams May Come

Ann Althouse casually dissed one of my favorite movies on her blog, which provoked in me a great idea for a forum topic/series of blog posts: Movies I loved that everyone else hated.

My tastes are not perfectly in line with the...uh... Well, okay, that should be obvious. Tastes are inherently idiosyncratic. Even if some are more offbeat than others, we none of us march to the exact same beat.

I'm used to this most prominently with black humor. Not African American comedy but stuff like Very Bad Things, Drop Dead Gorgeous, The Wicker Man and Psycho. (Yeah, lots of people like Psycho but Hitch viewed it as a comedy, as do I.) So it's a little strange to have a Romantic-Drama in the field of MILTEEH. Especially one with Robin Williams, who is not particularly to my taste.

Summary: After a series of tragic events taking the lives of his children, Robin Williams dies and goes to heaven, only to find his wife isn't there, because she took her own life after he died. He then embarks on a journey to save her.

Sort of a reverse Orpheus, if you will.

So, why do I like this movie? Probably, in part, because of an unrepentant Romantic strain. And probably, in part, because I think there's a lot of philosophical truth behind it. The afterlife, in this movie, is pretty much what you make of it--not unlike life itself, but with a lot more freedom, since you're not dealing so much with this recalcitrant stuff called "matter".

Further, the "Hell" that Annie (Annabella Sciorra) goes to isn't a place she's assigned to by some bureaucratic angels, it's a place she herself has created through her grief. In other words, Heaven and Hell are made of the same stuff, just not by the same people. It also seems to be far, far away from Heaven, which reminds me of St. Augustine's notion that "Evil is distance from God".

The people in Hell of course don't realize that. In a more abstract sense, you could say people in Heaven were Cause and people in Hell were Effect. (Though perhaps we could bring in Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn to explain how the people in Heaven were privileged by the narrative....)

So, why didn't people like this movie? The CGI is hot-and-heavy, showing a fluid, shifting afterlife (that reminds of Annie's painting), so that may have been part of it. I'd hate to think that people just didn't like the message, preferring instead the dull, steam-cleaned angels-and-harps of a more traditional Heaven.

One thing I have learned (from such movies as Chances Are and several others) is that movie audiences are very uncomfortable with multiple people playing the same character in a film. In What Dreams May Come, Annie and Chris's children are played by children in life, but in death but relatively famous adults. This is done with one of Chris's teachers, as well, though I can't recall if we see him in life.

I've found, though, when a movie says, "Surprise! I'm that other character you knew from before now played by a new actor," it seems to piss people off. (And it can be a cheap stunt.) Two out of the three times it's done in this film, it's necessary to the plot.

Then again, maybe it's the whole premise people reject. I don't know, but I rank it among my favorite films.


  1. The reason why people hate this movie can be spelled out in two words: Robin Williams. I have some rules in life:” Never play cards with any man named "Doc." Never eat at any place called "Mom's." And never, never, no matter what else you do in your whole life, never go to see a movie starring Robin Williams.

  2. Really? I thought he was popular!

    Though, now that I think of it, I don't have any evidence of that, except they keep puttin' him in movies.

  3. Robin Williams is the Anti-Christ. And going by your theory, Kevin Bacon in the most popular actor in the history of the world because he is in every other movie that comes out. But I guess that is OK because if he wasn't we would end up playing the "Six Degrees of Sir Francis Bacon" and that is just too freaking hard.

  4. Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays...

    ...Kevin Bacon has read one of them.


    It looks like you're right about the Robin Williams animosity. I really soured on him in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

    I still love WDMC, tho'.

  5. I'm so dense that the first time I saw Bunuel's "Obscure object of desire" I didn't realize the female lead was being played by two different actresses.

    I've avoided the movie you're writing about because ... Robin Williams is in it. But maybe I'll give it a chance (a friend lent me a copy dubbed into Thai but I never got around to watching it because ... Robin Williams is in it and I was afraid it was some going to be uplifting (as a rule, I _hate_ uplifting)

  6. Michael,

    Uplifting? It might be.

    It's highly, highly, HIGHLY Romantic--and therefore Williams' earnestness is prominent. You may want to avoid based on that.

    But, as I say, it's like Orpheus in reverse. I love Orpheus.

    There's a Renaissance version of the story (proto-opera) which has Eurydice being a total nag, and dogging Orpheus all the way from Hell. Which I also love.


Grab an umbrella. Unleash hell. Your mileage may vary. Results not typical. If swelling continues past four hours, consult a physician.