The world was shocked to hear of the sudden passing of Robin Williams. He died at 63 on Monday, Aug. 11 in his Tiburon, California home of an apparent suicide. Fans are left with the memories and mostly the laughter from his many comedic roles in Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams and more. However, it is his What Dreams May Come role that comes to mind in this stunning twist of events.
What Dreams May Come was a little hyped film about a man (Williams) who crosses the divides of heaven and hell to save his wife, who committed suicide. The book was written by horror genre writer, Richard Matheson, is mostly influenced by Hindu and New Age beliefs. It was made into a movie in 1998. While the film was not well received, garnering only $15 million of its $85 million budget in its opening weekend, for many this was Williams' masterpiece. Spoilers ahead.
It was not a comedic role and there were no jovial, side-busting moments that the audience has come to expect. This was a serious film that questioned the afterlife and explored the depths of human connection. Williams played Chris Nielsen, a middle aged man who dies in a car crash years after his children died from the same fate. His wife, Annie Collins-Nielsen (Annabella Sciorra) soon takes her own life, unable to cope with the loss of her entire family. Nielsen soon learns that he will not be able to reunite with his dearly departed love in the afterlife, because suicides do not go to heaven or as it's called in the book, Summerland. They go to hell, doomed to relive their death over and over again. Nielsen, bound by his unrelenting love, makes the daring decision to cross realms to save his wife. It's never been done before but Nielsen has the power of love on his side. It's only after succumbing to the darkness that Nielsen is able to bring his wife into the light and save her soul.
Obviously, the irony of the film is not lost on its fans. Whatever your religious beliefs might be, suicide is a serious matter. Williams had suffered from depression recently, seeking treatment at the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in July 2014 and battled 20 years of alcohol addiction. His career had hit a high point last year with the success of his CBS ad agency comedy, The Crazy Ones, beating out The Michael J. Fox Show in a head-to-head competition, only to be cancelled at the end of the season.
We may never know what caused Williams to take his own life. That brilliant smile hid the pain underneath and while he made others laugh, he could not find the same solace for himself. Maybe, What Dreams May Come, was a foreshadowing of events to come but it's hard to imagine that Williams could end up anywhere but heaven. The film, after all, is an interpretation of the afterlife. None of us knows what lies beyond our final breath but we do know the legacy we leave behind after we die. Williams brought joy to millions. His smile lit up the screen and his characters cackled with effervescence that gave them a life of their own. Many have posted on twitter that they will never be able to watch the film the same way again but if you think about it, it's really a comfort. Throughout the beginning of the film, you see Williams frolicking in a heaven of his own creation, imagining to his hearts content. He's happy. He's at peace. He only descends into madness at the very end when he goes to save his wife and even then, it's a happy ending. She does not remain in Summerland for long but she is reunited with her husband and they live out their lives together on earth again with a fresh start.
Maybe it was a message. Death is not the end and suicides can be saved and maybe his family can find comfort when they watch that film again, that Williams is okay. He's not in pain. He's not depressed. Hopefully, he's making heaven laugh just as he made the world laugh for the better part of 40 years. He leaves behind his wife, Susan Schneider and his daughter, Zelda Williams.