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.

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