[personal profile] wingedbeast
What Dreams May Come is, for those who haven't seen, the story of a man who dies, goes to an interesting interpretation of the afterlife, and eventually tries to save his wife from the Hell she winds up in after killing herself.

This movie was one of Robin Williams' dramatic roles and I want to say that it tries. It really tries. It... aslo fails.

For another view on this movie, one that is less charitable than mine, I can advise you check out Renegade Cut*. My own falls along similar line.

The movie spends time establishing certain things that I don't think need to be established. Before we even get into the wimsy and imagery of the film, we need to learn that Robin Williams's character (Chris Nielsen) and wife (Annie Collins-Nielsen) have lost their two children to an accident, that Annie blames herself, that he is caring and a competent doctor, that both he and wife have a knowledge of and continuing interest in art.

That's a lot to establish and, for how the movie goes, that all needs to be established... but why?

Well, the dead children need to be established so that two of the people Chris Nielsen meets after his death can wind up having been his children. That's a completely unnecessary development. It's a bit of saccarine for warm fuzzies that really isn't necessary. To borrow a term from over at the Roll to Disbelieve blog, it's glurge.

The other reason the dead children need to be established is so that we can have an explanation of the Annie's depression. That isn't necessary either. Depression doesn't need an explanation in personal history... Technically, it can have one, because these things aren't always so cut and dry as either nature or nurture but, it doesn't need one.

When I first watched What Dreams May Come, where I saw myself in Chris, I was just waiting to die... That, by the way, could be a nigh-Hitchcockian level of directorial manipulation of the audience. Instead, it was achieved by just being boring.

So, out of a belief that depression, alone, is enough on itself, not needing to be explained, and those children, quite frankly, being complete drags on the storyline, the entire living part should just be gone.

The next thing that it gets wrong is its general treatment of depression and suicide.

In how it treats suicide... the notion that everybody who commits suicide goes to Hell. In Wristcutters: A Love Story that idea was mocked. In What Dreams May Come, that's a judgment. They try not to make it a harsh judgment, but it is, indeed, a judgment... one that they have no right to make.

In how it treats depression... it kind of approaches something that could be useful but, lacks explanation where it needs explanation and is too easy otherwise. In the movie, Chris manages to save Annie from depression by choosing to remain with her in her Hell... and nothing else.

"And nothing else" can seem dismissive. After all, his decision, in the film, is to literally sacrifice eternity of capacity for joy in the name of being with her rather than leaving her alone. Seen like that, it's immense. But, that gesture, nothing more than the willingness to do so, saves her, all at once, from being clinically depressed. Seen like that, it's pathetic and small.

Take this and add onto it that there are only two points where women get agency in this movie. One is where the Annie kills herself. The other is where the daughter, of the two children that died prior, explains a time where Robin Williams character, when she was alive, made her feel bad. The dead son gets more of a story-arc than that and he's mainly, as stated before, glurge.

There is one complaint about this movie that I don't share. I don't think it deals, poorly, with the question of God. It's brought up, because how could you not, and dismissed as quickly and painlessly as possible. The phrase used is something along the lines of "I'm sure he's up there somewhere."

Having God figure in the movie would be a problem all its own. The movie would be stuck with trying to manage around Christian sensibilities without offending liberal sensibilities and, all the while, trying to avoid Evil Jesus. It would be too much effort for what is not related to the point of this movie.

It would invite too much distraction to depict God as non-existent or fallible.

Indeed, acknowledging the world of the movie for what it is would mean that everybody would focus on that rather than the story. The movie, for what it is, is best described as Morman Universalist Multiverse, wherein God could easily be just one of us, a stranger on the bus, trying to find his way home.

No, better just to leave that aside and focus on the point of the movie. The point is to explore psychology without the physical in the way, leaving only the mental and the spiritual.

For all that I will praise this movie for avoiding that distraction, it immediately gets distracted by its premise. The imagery, the various paintings given realistic representation, is all very well and good. But, they shouldn't be the very point of the story. Rarely, if ever, is the basic concept of pigment on canvas the entire point of a painting.

So, in the remake, let's do away with a deal of set up, abort those children entirely (no, I didn't write this entire entry for just that pun), and, most importantly, change the focus.

Instead of focusing on Chris Nielsen learning about the afterlife, we make the Annie Collins-Nielsen the main character. Chris can still be present throughout the movie. But, for the first while, he should be someone striving to learn about his wife's depression and, so doing, become a framing device for Annie's story.

Now, I only really understand depression from others who have told me their experiences. So, I'm not going to do much specifying here. There is one thing that I have learned and that is that depression has its cracks. There are moments of being not-depressed. These aren't always caused by healthy things and the reaction to them isn't, even when they are healthy, not always healthy itself.

Also, getting rid of of the biochemical elements of depression doesn't get rid of the depression, itself. Don't get me wrong, that medication is a life-saver, but it doesn't work alone.

So, Annie Nielsen, an artist with a dead husband and a case of clinical depression dies and we don't reach a world of punishment or reward, but a world where the world around you is a creation of your own psychology.

Chris learning about the afterlife and about depression can be the framing device that makes clear. Technically speaking, it is the soul's own thoughts that create the world around them. If you look at it completely from that narrow margin, in a way the main character is doing this to herself. But, that's incomplete. After a lifetime in a clinically depressed brain, one can't just choose, particularly without knowing it to be an option, to not be depressed. From that perspective, it's something their own mind is still doing to them.

With that in mind, we have a story of Annie Nielsen, victim of her own mind, trying to navigate a world that she, at least at first, can't stop herself from creating. She can, for brief times, find a way to squeeze out some joy and that gives her the means to strive to escape both this hell and her depression.

At the same time, Chris after learning, will try to reach her and help her learn the ways to cope so that she can save herself.

This can be an exploration of, but not a definitive answer by any means, an important question. Beyond the medication (which is only set aside because it's not a complete answer, if proscribed it can be necessary but not sufficient), how do you help someone with depression? From the outside, how do you help someone? From the inside, how do you help yourself?

Indeed, this setup, the Mormon Universalist Multiverse setup, has options for many more stories, exploring psychology and religion and politics and every other way people have of relating to each other and themselves. So, I could easily see a series of movies set in the same kind of afterlife. But, in terms of what What Dreams May Come, I think this would be an improvement.

By the way, for a much better look at depression than this movie or anything I could approach, check out this Youtube video on the Peoplewatchign series from Cracked. https://youtu.be/ZtKUUkEDetI

* https://youtu.be/400qct-BSBw

Date: 2017-04-08 08:19 pm (UTC)
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
From: [personal profile] packbat

I like your proposal. That would be a really interesting, really compelling story.

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