How far would you go to be reunited with the people you love? That is the question that Chris Nielson (Robin Williams) must ponder when death claims the lives of his entire family and he must come to terms with this tragic fate in order to be reunited with his wife and children in the afterlife.
The connection between Chris and his beloved wife, Annie (Annabella Sciorra), is one of the strongest components of the film. In the aftermath of Chris’s death, his unbreakable bond with Annie is the catalyst with which their separate souls are able to remain entwined through her paintings. The essence of Chris’s love for Annie is what allows him to distinguish her soul in the dark chasm of Hell. His willingness to sacrifice an eternity in Heaven with his children so that he could join Annie in Hell is what ultimately allowed Annie’s soul to be restored. His love for Annie was greater than the darkness which shattered her soul and cast her into Hell.
While Chris is able to perceive Annie in her true form, even after his death, he is only able to see his children when his love for them shatters their perceived identities of what would make their father happy. When Chris’s daughter, Marie, is revealed to him, she initially appears in the form of an Asian woman. Marie chose to take this form because her father had told her that Asian women were beautiful and elegant. It was only after she realizes that her father loved her just as she was that Chris is able to recognize his daughter in her true form.
For Chris’s son, Ian, the journey to reconnect with his father is much harder. In life, while he always had his father’s love, Ian felt that he never truly had his father’s approval. The irony of Chris’s journey is that the one person whose worth he failed to recognize in life is the same person who was able to offer him strength and comfort in death: his beloved son. In the wake of his death, Chris encounters an entity who guides him in his transition as he comes to understand the truth of his mortality and the painful aftermath which follows in its wake. While Chris felt a connection to the being (calling him Doc), his identity was uncertain – like fragile light in a dark storm. When Chris reconnects with the entity in his own unique version of Heaven, the mysterious being identifies himself as Albert (Cuba Gooding Jr.).
Albert plays a vital role in Chris’s journey, not only in helping him with his transition into death, but more importantly, aiding him in his quest to restore Annie’s soul when she is cast into Hell. Ironically, it is Ian, not Albert, who truly helps Chris reconnect with Annie. Although Chris must make the final steps of the journey alone, his son’s reminder to Chris to remember what he said to Annie after the children’s’ death is what ultimately breaks the darkness surrounding his mother’s soul and heals the bond between Chris and Annie.
What Dreams May Come is a truly inspiring masterpiece. The story, interwoven from threads of pure joy and excruciating pain, conveys a unique and emotionally powerful message. The casting is exceptional, but Robin William’s portrayal of Chris is without a doubt one of his best character roles to date. The visual artistry of the movie is nothing short of breathtaking. This film is highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys storytelling in its purest form.