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28 October 2011

The 1998 film What Dreams May Come starring Robin Williams, Annabella Sciorra, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. was one I enjoyed, but it was the cinematography that I loved the most. The images were so beautiful that it has become a film I've watched more than once. When I learned it was based on a book originally released in 1977, I figured I would download it. After I did more research, it was interesting to find the author was previously a horror writer and, at the time, was trying to separate himself from the genre.

In the book, Robert has a visitor at his door, who delivers a large envelope. In this, Robert finds a manuscript written by his brother Chris. Immediately dubious at the authenticity since Chris has passed away, the woman at the door explains that she spent the last six months writing down Chris' words and after reassuring him that she understands it might be unbelievable, it is, in fact, true. She leaves quickly, never giving her name or a way to contact her.

It is Chris' journey following death that is explained, in minute detail of his initial stumbles as a spirit who didn't  understand what happened. He doesn't grasp how he can be at his own funeral, or lay down next to his weeping wife, since he believes he's not dead. When it becomes too confusing and exhausting, he eventually cries for help. It's answered by Albert, a guide who begins to educate Chris on where he now is, and what he must do in order to achieve fulfillment in this afterlife. Albert brings him to Summerland and while it's not quite the heaven one might expect as there aren't any angels or harps, it instead is a sweeping landscape of beauty and nature, where colors are at their purest, and everything emits its own natural energy vibration that is pleasing to hear. The sky has no sun, yet is bright and clear; the rushing water in the lake is cool and refreshing, yet hands and clothes remain dry. It's a peacefulness that Chris has never experienced before. And I'll admit that when a dog begins to run toward him, a dog he and his wife Ann had in their earthly lives but had to put to sleep because of illness, I got a little choked up.

Chris, though, is still tethered to earth through his wife's despair and pain at his loss. Her grief ultimately keeps him connected, and he can't move on. It's when she commits a final act that determines her own fate, that Chris must travel to the deepest realms to save her soul.

What happens after we die?
I'm sure I'm not the only one who wonders what happens after death. Although several sources were used to build the foundation of the experience of death and the afterlife in What Dreams May Come, the book doesn't claim to be anything more than a story, and it's a pretty entertaining one. Bogged down by descriptions at times, but still good.

Surprisingly, I was not all that interested in the love between Chris and Ann, even though it's important to the story and I appreciated it in the film. In the book, though, I cared more about this particular version of life after death. I was fascinated by the idea that hell was a result of people limited by their minds in the afterlife. If they could only bring themselves out of the negativity they were surrounded by, and the despair and darkness, then they also could be in Summerland. Everywhere they looked, though, they were in a land with others who were also drowning in misery, so these poor souls couldn't conceive of anything more than sadness, hatred, and pain and were mired in this existence.

I also was more curious about the image of a house of rest, almost like a hospital in Summerland in which those who died by an act of violence or a lingering illness recuperated. Only when they acknowledged that they had passed on and could accept that they were able to now live without pain, could they really begin their new life. An interesting thought that new residents of Summerland still clung to their earthly existence, even if it was wracked with pain.

It's a good story and I enjoyed several aspects of it, but I found that I did get a little overwhelmed with so many of the descriptions of the love between Chris and Ann. It's pivotal to the story, but the flashbacks to moments in their life and expressions of devotion became tedious. In one defining moment towards the end, I was shocked at how many pages it was taking to fully express their connection. So, I quickly read those sections, to get to the ones that interested me more.

The book is a nice way to spend a couple of afternoons, though, and those who are interested in this version of an afterlife, or who struggle with what might be next, might like to spend some time reading this. Ultimately, I do recommend the film instead of the book simply because the images alone are brought to life much more. In my opinion, it was a story meant more for the eyes.

The movie follows the same story to a certain extent as the book. Even though several characters were changed, I could understand why it was done. It's the stunning visual imagery that I've always enjoyed, and here are a few pictures to give you an idea.
All Images from Blu-Ray.Com
All Images from Blu-Ray.Com
All Images from Blu-Ray.Com

16 comments:

  1. It sounds like this is one of the rare instances when the movie was better than the book.

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  2. Oh, I have to rent this! I just love Annabella Sciorra anyway!

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  3. I saw this movie before I read the book, too. I have a feeling that if I had read the book first, I would have appreciated it much more, but it seems so dull and drab compared to the spectacular images in the movie!

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  4. I remember watching this movie at the movie theater and loving the visuals. It's actually one of my favorite movies. Shame on me for not knowing it was a book first :)

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  5. Hi, Natalie -- first, thanks for coming to Chopsticks and String -- I think you would enjoy "The Paris Wife," especially if you liked "A Moveable Feast."

    There's a lot of meat in this post and great photos. I haven't either seen or read the story, so it gives me some good food for thought and perhaps another item for my book list!

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  6. Those images were stunning, and though I hadn't thought to watch the movie before, I want to see it now. It does sound like the story behind this book and movie was an interesting one, and I loved reading your analysis of it. Though I don't really ascribe to the "summerland" belief, the imagery and description was beautiful!

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  7. I saw this movie a long time ago but I've never read the book!

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  8. I had no idea the movie was based on a book!

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  9. Those images are stunning. I had heard of the film but had never bothered to check it out. I think I must now!

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  10. I haven't watched this movie nor read the book, but I love the sound of it, so I'm going to look through Netflix for this movie.

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  11. Well thanks; I like your review and I appreciate your format recommendation, too. I think it's rare that the movie is better but it happens and you have me convinced here. :) Sounds like a very interesting story.

    Do you know The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren? (She wrote Pippi Longstocking!) It's a children's book, about two brothers and their journey through one stage of one kind of afterlife. I was so enchanted by it as a child, and if I ever find a copy I'd like to reread now. That's what this post reminded me of.

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  12. I usually like to read the book and then see the movie but in this case I think I'd like to see the film first.

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  13. I have also read the book and seen the film, and I definitely agree with you that the film is better than the book. I also didn't like all the mundane descriptions of Chris and Ann's relationship the book provided: I often found my mind drifting. The film though is absolutely captivating, from beginning to end. I especially enjoyed the film's version of "Hell," and the scenery is hauntingly beautiful. The way Chris rescues Ann from Hell is my favourite scene. Overall, great movie and impeccable acting!

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  14. what is the climax or turning point

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  15. so what is the climax or turning point?

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