Sunday 8 August 2021

What Dreams May Come

Netflix has been showing a few things recently that I missed the first time around. I was in floods by the end of this one, especially as it focuses on depression and suicide, starring Robin Williams, who himself committed suicide sixteen years later. I thought it was a good movie, so wanted to check out the original book:

What happens to us after we die? Chris Nielsen had no idea, until an unexpected accident cut his life short, separating him from his beloved wife, Annie. Now Chris must discover the true nature of life after death.

But even Heaven is not complete without Annie, and the divided soul mates will do anything to reach each other across the boundaries between life and death. When tragedy threatens to divide them forever, Chris risks his very soul to save Annie from an eternity of despair.

Very interesting stuff.

In some ways, the book and the film are very similar in tone, but in plot they differ in some key details. I'd say this is an example of a story that benefitted from the involvement of other artists and writers. Like Forrest Gump, having a few more creatives on board just helped to flesh out the story a bit and bring it to life. The books in themselves are perfectly good, stand-alone works, but the big screen adaptations have a little extra that just makes them sparkle.

The book is quite deeply philosophical. It's a telly book (more tell than show), that explains the author's world relating to death, the afterlife and reincarnation. It goes through the mechanics of how it all works. Chris still travels down into the underworld to find Annie, but the ending is a bit different, and there's a whole extra part involving their children which isn't in the book. But, I do think the film worked really well, and I think the book characters needed more to do, because the book is quite focused on one person, and philosophy doesn't translate to the screen so well without action.

The mechanics in the book are compelling in their detail. It focuses a lot on the concept of hell being something we do to ourselves. People go to the Summerland (Heaven) because they can conceive of it. People who have lived an awful life, who have been neglected or abused, or who sink into mental despair and depression, cannot conceive of a way out - of a different state of being - and so they cannot find it.

It's a worthy allegory, however, I found some of its implications a little hard to embrace. We all know that when you're in one particular frame of mind, it's often extremely difficult to imagine being in another frame of mind or behaving differently. It's easy to get stuck in a rut and hard to switch from despondency to enthusiasm. The underlying idea, that those who have suffered the most in life are doomed to continue suffering in the afterlife, is an uncomfortable one. That, to me, is a pretty depressing plot hole.

Annie loses her husband, the love of her life, and can't conceive of living without him, so she kills herself, only to be condemned to live in an absolute shithole for twenty-four years without water, electricity, gas, or pest control (giant tarantulas roaming loose), and even her husband's best efforts can't dig her out of it. 

I don't like that idea very much. Even with the reincarnation angle thrown in at the end. That's still a pretty horrific system. There's an interesting line that goes something like, 'we are not punished for our deeds, our deeds are our punishment,' which I'm still thinking on now. There's a lot in here that gives pause for thought. But if there is an afterlife, I would hope it's slightly kinder than this. 

So, I like the way the film pulled out the morbidity plug on that one, but also the visual effects they threw in. Especially where Chris is playing in the flowers. It was a book begging for beautiful effects at a time when cinema wasn't quite as advanced as it is now. They did a really good job.

So, I did prefer the film over the book, but it's easy to see how the book inspired the film. It's not the most uplifting read, and I've been reading it in tandem with American Psycho, so I'm pretty depressed at the moment. Looking forward to something a little more light hearted. 

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